Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bottle Rocket -- The Criterion Collection

I don't want to turn this blog into a site where I simply review all the new releases that catch my eye; the stuff I write about has to be stuff I care about in some way.

(Admittedly, it's taken me about a year now to realize that very fundamental fact of blogging!)

And it was so nice to have two of my favorite films of all time released in Criterion Collection editions on November 25, 2008.

Chungking Express was the first film and Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket (1995) is the second.

I can recall reading about Bottle Rocket about a year before I saw the film. I think it played in only one theater in D.C. and the Washington Post review mentioned something about Owen Wilson's Dignan being like a demented Eddie Haskell, or words to that effect. That stuck in my head.

My friend rented the laserdiscs of both this film and Swingers in early 1997 -- that was in the days where there was a real lag time between a theatrical release and a home video release, especially a release on the laserdisc format. He taped both for me and I think I watched Swingers first.

I liked Swingers but thought it was a bit obvious and overrated in many ways -- I subsequently liked Vince Vaughn a lot more later in stuff like Made (with cinematography by Christopher Doyle of all people!) or Old School or Swingers or last week's release of Four Christmases which, admittedly, is not a masterpiece but which had this Vince fan laughing quite a bit.

But when I popped in the VHS tape of Bottle Rocket I had to stop it within about 10 minutes as I was just laughing so hard and enjoying the film so much that I didn't want to ruin the film -- I wanted to stretch it out and enjoy it for an even longer time than it's 91 minute running time.

The first scene with Future Man (Andrew Wilson) had me crying with laughter.

And, after the heist, when the "gang" buys fireworks under Dignan's direction, I was cackling like an idiot.

I am one of the few Wes Anderson fans who thinks his subsequent films are never as good as his first while I know there are some fans who love Rushmore and hate Bottle Rocket.

And I'm sure it's almost impossible to watch this film for the first time now since Owen Wilson has essentially done similar shtick in numerous, lesser Hollywood films to lesser effect. Luke Wilson also has done his share of Hollywood crap.

Still, the film delivers for me and each time I watch it, I find some new detail that makes me smile or laugh in a new way.

And, as Scorsese and others have noted, the film is largely devoid of cynicism. There is irony aplenty but little cynicism.

I would add that it was also very refreshing to find an American indie film in the mid-1990's where the characters were not discussing pop culture like in a Tarantino film (I'm glad Anderson ditched the Starsky and Hutch conversation seen in the short).

The Film

The picture is ridiculously clear, with colors that seem even more vibrant than before; I can only imagine how great the upcoming Blu-Ray version will look! The commentary with Anderson and Owen is funny and genuine without being overbearing.

The Extras

The "Making Of" is quite funny without trying very hard to be for some reason. Andrew Wilson is even funnier now than as Future Man in the film.

The Deleted Scenes offer a glimpse into the further adventures of the crew which would have added a lot of different moods to the action for this viewer.

And the original 13-minute short that started this all is fascinating -- it looks great for one thing -- no more You Tube-level postings of this thing! -- and it shows how the Dignan character was much more of a typical criminal without the unique and innocent spin that Owen Wilson finally brought to the character.

The other extras, including the Murita Cycles short, illuminate further aspects of the inspirations behind the world of Wes Anderson.

I direct a lot of venom at the Criterion Collection but, really, it's the people that just blindly buy the DVDs without really caring about the films behind the numbers on the spines of the releases that are the problem.

With this release, the Criterion Collection folks have finally rewarded a certain kind of geek. And we are very happy.

Details on the DVD from Criterion are here.

Photos from the Little Banana site which looks suspiciously like the old Lawn Wranglers site -- a site that I found at work one day in 1998 that got me to thinking that I wasn't the only person out there who deeply loved this film.