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The Times
  • Movie Man: ‘Royal Tenenbaums’ funny and surprisingly sad

  • This summer, Wes Anderson’s movie “Moonrise Kingdom,” earned $43 million at the box office, which was considered a huge success. (To put things in perspective, “The Avengers” earned $207 million — on its opening weekend.) But “Moonrise Kingdom” was a huge success. For one thi...
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  • This summer, Wes Anderson’s movie “Moonrise Kingdom,” earned $43 million at the box office, which was considered a huge success. (To put things in perspective, “The Avengers” earned $207 million — on its opening weekend.) But “Moonrise Kingdom” was a huge success. For one thing, it cost less than $20 million to make, meaning it more than doubled its cost. And, more importantly, a director like Wes Anderson makes movies that not only stand the test of time — they get better with it.
    Take Anderson’s 2001 film, “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Back when it was released, it looked like a well-made, fairly quirky follow-up to 1998’s “Rushmore.” Now, 11 years later, it looks like a bonafide masterpiece. (And so, for that matter, does “Rushmore.” ) Re-released last month on Blu-ray by Criterion, “Tenenbaums” is a perfect little jewel box of a movie, full of rich drawn characters saying witty things in perfectly designed settings. In lesser hands, it could be unbearable. But in Anderson’s hands, it’s one of the best movies of the past couple of decades.
    The film centers around the Tenenbaums, a wealthy New York family who wasted whatever promise they once had. Financial whiz Chaz (Ben Stiller) is despondent after his wife’s death. Failed tennis star Richie (Luke Wilson) is sailing the world, heartsick over his (adopted) sister Margot, a playwright who stopped writing. Add to the mix their drug addict friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), frustrated mom Etheline (Anjelica Huston) and, most importantly, rascally dad Royal (Gene Hackman) and you’ve got a complex mix of comedy and drama.
    I won’t even attempt to sum up all the plot threads, except to say that “Tenenbaums” is both very funny and surprisingly sad. Best of all, it manages to feel like an adaption of some novel that never existed, with its fictional locations (the 375th Street Y) and the evocative narrative voice of Alec Baldwin. It’s the sort of movie you can settle down with again and again, knowing you’re bound to notice something new — or enjoy a favorite moment you’ve seen a million times. Criterion’s new Blu-ray just duplicates the features of the old DVD, but with a movie this obsessively detailed, you might as well bask in the clearest picture possible.
    ‘Quadrophenia’
    Last week, I reviewed Ken Russell’s oddball epic “Lisztomania,” which starred Roger Daltrey of The Who. Daltrey isn’t present in “Quadrophenia” (just out from Criterion) — at least not visually, but his voice and the music of his band is all over this 1979 classic of teenage rebellion.
    The movie, based on the album of the same name, focuses on Jimmy (Phil Daniels), your average ne’er do well teen living in 1965 London. Jimmy is a dedicated “Mod,” dressing sharply, gobbling amphetamines and zipping around the city on his scooter, fueled by the sounds of the latest bands (including, of course, The Who).
    Page 2 of 2 - Like a lot of kids his age, he’s looking for something, anything to rebel against. Fortunately, in 1960s England, the Mods had the perfect target: The Rockers, music fans who favored a retro, leather look and loved the old-style tunes. Believe it or not, giant armies of both groups would converge in resort locations and cause colossal riots — and that’s the focus of “Quadrophenia.” The entire movie revolves around the ever-building tension in Jimmy’s life, the sudden release of all that violence, and then, at the end, the awkward aftermath when he realizes nothing has really changed.
    These days, if it’s remembered at all, “Quadrophenia” is known for Sting’s performance as “Ace Face,” the coolest Mod in town. Sting barely says a word, but his late '70s look — thin as a rail with bleached blonde hair — is perfect. And the twist ending, when Jimmy glimpses at his hero’s secret identity, is one of the movie’s great moments. (The bonus features on Criterion’s DVD and Blu-ray include behind-the-scenes footage of a geeky-looking Sting learning vintage '60s dance moves.)
    Contact Will Pfeifer at will_pfeifer@comcast.net.
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