Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bottle Rocket

Originally Written on 12/23/04 at w/ Additional Edits & Expanded Content.

The heist film genre came back in a big way thanks to Quentin Tarantino's 1992 indie-landmark film Reservoir Dogs. In 1995, Bryan Singer released The Usual Suspects to great reviews as films of crime capers and heists came back to the forefront. Often using catchy one-liners, kinetic editing, and dramatic suspense, the genre was breaking new ground with some old rules. Around the same year when The Usual Suspects came out, another heist film of sorts was in the works but unlike the character study of Singer's landmark film, this little-known heist film was more humorous with a sense of charm and optimism. From an unknown filmmaker from Austin, Texas named Wes Anderson and his college roommate and actor Owen Wilson came a hilarious, quirky caper film called Bottle Rocket.

Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson with Anderson serving as a director, Bottle Rocket is about three guys from Texas who try to build their way up after a little heist into the big times. While hiding in a hotel, problems emerge along with personal directions while it leads up to an even bigger heist with help from a local crime boss. Starring Owen Wilson and his siblings, younger brother Luke and older brother Andrew along with Robert Musgrave, and the legendary James Caan, Bottle Rocket is a funny, heartwarming crime caper film that hits all the right notes while marking the debut of one of the premier new American auteur filmmakers for the next several years.

In a voluntary, psychiatric hospital, a young man named Anthony (Luke Wilson) is set to leave the hospital where his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) is waiting outside for him to escape. Since Dignan doesn’t know that Anthony is free to leave, Anthony tells his doctor that he's sneaking out just so Dignan can see. The two leave on bus where Dignan tells his plans for a small robbery he wants to do so he can work with big time local crime boss Mr. Henry (James Caan). Dignan has a huge plan while they meet with their friend Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave) to plan the heist. Anthony stops by only to meet up with his little sister Grace (Shea Fowler) who is disgusted with her brother's involvement with Dignan. After stopping at Bob’s house where they got harassed by his brother John aka Future Man (Andrew Wilson) and his friend Clay (Brian Tenenbaum) while Anthony talks to Future Man's girlfriend Stacy Sinclair (Jenni Tooley) about Anthony's hospital stay.

With Dignan leading the charge and Bob being the driver, Dignan and Andrew make their first heist in a bookstore where they steal a lot of cash, which was enough to pull a successful heist. The trio drives all the way to a small motel in the middle of Texas to lay low where Anthony falls for a Paraguay-born maid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos). Bob meanwhile, has learned that his brother has been arrested for being accused of a drug dealer even though he and his brother do have a marijuana field grown in their backyard. Bob secretly leaves to Dignan's surprise while he and Anthony continue to lay low while Anthony's romance with Inez blossoms. With the police still trying to find out what’s going on, Anthony and Dignan decides to leave but not before Anthony leaves something for Inez while Inez through a translator wanted to tell Dignan that she loves Anthony.

Dignan learns that Anthony left some money to Inez as he is angry that their plans to go into the big time heist business is shattered and he might not work for Mr. Henry. Dignan and Anthony go their separate ways where Anthony reunites with Bob as the two worked on several jobs while helping to pay Future Man's legal fees. Then one day, Anthony sees Dignan who offers his old friend for a job. The job is to work directly with Mr. Henry for a huge heist with a couple of Henry's associates, Applejack (Jim Ponds) and Kumar (Kumar Pallana). Anthony isn't sure until Mr. Henry tells him a story and after a while, Anthony is officially in if Bob is involved and Dignan organizes the heist. With planning for the heist with Dignan leading the charge with Anthony, Bob, Applejack, and Kumar involved, everyone gets ready but something goes wrong where Dignan wonders what happens and who screwed up?

While some of the film's quirkiness and eccentric characters might be odd to caper-film purists, Bottle Rocket succeeds in its charm and optimism. The credit goes to director Wes Anderson for his slacker-like approach about a few dreamers wanting to have what everyone wants. The film's directing style is often filled with great tracking shots and hand-held camera shots for certain movements, especially in the running scenes that would become a trademark with many of Anderson's film work. Complemented by the colorful cinematography of Robert Yeoman and production designer David Wasco for giving the film a unique, quirky look. Anderson's script that was written with Owen Wilson is filled with great one liners and a hilarious structure of how a heist is build up while in the second act, we see more of the humanity of Dignan and Anthony, notably the romance of Anthony of Inez. The structure works thanks to a nicely paced editing style from David Mortiz. The film also has a wonderful approach to music thanks to some jazz-like numbers and score pieces from Marks Mothersbaugh of Devo and a soundtrack filled with Mexican songs and tracks by Love and the Rolling Stones.

Then there's the film's wonderful cast that is filled with great small, standout performances like Jenni Tooley as flirty Stacy Sinclair, Jim Ponds as crime honcho Applejack, and Shea Fowler as Anthony's cynical little sister. Even some of the Anderson small company regulars like Brian Tenenbaum, Dipak Pallana, Stephen Dignan, and Andrew Wilson (who also serves as associate producer) each make a memorable performance in their brief time but no one brought more laughs than Kumar Pallana as a dim-witted safecracker. Lumi Cavazos is a real standout as the shy, beautiful Inez in an understated performance even though she didn't have to speak English throughout the film as she has wonderful, heartwarming scenes with the Wilson brothers.

James Caan is hilarious as Mr. Henry with his wisecracks and wisdom on heists and crime while having a great scene with Andrew Wilson proving that he's still a bad*ss. Robert Musgrave gives a wonderful performance as the cautious Bob Mapplethorpe who is often at odds with Dignan while having some great comedic scenes as he serves as the conscience of sorts of the trio. Luke Wilson is the film's most charming and likeable performance as the anguished Anthony with his hopes for a better life while trying to have something for people in his family to be proud of. Luke is the film's heart while his older brother Owen is the movie's best performance. Owen brings a charm and optimism that is so refreshing as a dreamer who doesn't quit even though he is naive and somewhat of an idiot. Yet, Owen's intense performance proves to be so entrancing, you can't help but root for him in a performance that serves as a breakthrough for him and his brother as they carry a natural chemistry together.

***The Following is Additional Content Relating to the Criterion DVD written on 8/8/10***

When Bottle Rocket came out in the new DVD format in 1998, it was the only film of Wes Anderson that was released just as a DVD with no extras. In the years since, films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were released with Anderson having full control of the DVD material. Through the Criterion Collection distribution company, those three films were released with loads of extras and commentary from Anderson and associates as they were very popular with fans of the director. Yet, Bottle Rocket remained as a DVD with no extras until 2008 after years of fans wanting a proper DVD release of Anderson’s first film.

The Region 1 2-disc Criterion DVD for Bottle Rocket presents the film in the 1:85:1 widescreen aspect ratio format with a restored high-definition transfer and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack all supervised by Wes Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeomen. The transfer is truly exquisite in its look as the colors look sharper and more pristine. The only special feature, aside from the film, that appears in the first disc of the DVD is a full-length audio commentary track from Anderson and the film’s co-writer/actor Owen Wilson.

The commentary is mostly a loose conversation between Anderson and Wilson as they’re both taking a break from the projects they were working. The two reminisce about the making of the film as well as some of the things that went on when they were trying to make the film. They also talk about the people that helped them like James L. Brooks and Polly Platt who discovered them through the short film they prior to the feature film. Wilson talks about not wanting to watch the film on TV because he would end up watching and do a running commentary of his own.

The two also talk about the collaborators they would work in Robert Yeomen, who they love for his work in Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and David Wasco. The latter of which, they met when they were invited to the set of Pulp Fiction were they also met Quentin Tarantino. Anderson and Wilson also talked about how they wanted Bottle Rocket to be different from the other heist/crime films of the time. Notably because they wanted to have the characters be innocent individuals who are dreamers.

Anderson also reflects on his hatred for test screenings which led to him re-shooting Bottle Rocket where some of the film’s early scenes were material that was re-shot. Anderson and Wilson talked about the test-screening in Santa Monica where they first met Mark Mothersbaugh, who would become one of their key collaborators. The commentary overall is fun to hear as the two reflect on the film and are often surprised at how popular it’s become. Notably with Martin Scorsese who listed it as one of his favorite films of the 1990s.

The second disc of the DVD includes loads of supplements relating to the film. The first of which, is a making of film with new interviews by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, other cast members, crew, and producer James L. Brooks. The near 26-minute special shot by Barry Braverman, who was one of the original cinematographers of the Bottle Rocket short, has Anderson, Owen Wilson, and everyone else including Luke and Andrew Wilson discussing the development of the film. The doc also include some deleted scenes that didn’t make it to the original short along with a rare footage of Kumar Pallana’s audition with Luke Wilson and Stephen Dignan, a friend of Wes and Owen who later appeared in the first three films of Anderson.

The script development for the feature took two years were Wes and Owen lived at an office run by James L. Brooks with Polly Platt helping along as a producer. By the time the film started to get into production, it was rough at first but Brooks and Platt let Wes Anderson try to maintain his vision. Then there was the story about the infamous test screening that Mark Mothersbaugh attended. People left during the screening as Luke recalls comments about the film from other people. Making things worse when the film was being re-worked after the disastrous screening was when Brooks tried to get the film submitted for the 1996 Sundance Film Festival where it got rejected. The film did come out where it was Kenneth Turan’s review for the L.A. Times that not only praised the film but called out Sundance for rejecting it.

The documentary overall is fun as the cast and crew also talk about how shocking the film has done well over the years. Yet, it ends with James Caan not happy over not getting a call from Wes to appear in another film which was a very funny moment.

The other big special feature in the second disc is the original 1992 short film for Bottle Rocket that made its premiere at the 1993 Sundance Film festival. Shot in black-and-white in 16mm, the short features early versions of a few key scenes. Notably the scene where Dignan and Anthony steal items from Anthony‘s home along with the gun scenes with Temple Nash Jr. as the gun salesman, and the scene of Dignan planning the robbery where Bob looks over the gun. The short also includes a different ending and jazz music as the score that features a couple of pieces by the Vince Guaraldi trio. The short is truly incredible of what it aims for and what would become later on in the feature film version. The section for the short also includes loads of pictures and storyboards created by Anderson.

Eleven deleted scenes that includes Bob washing his car and another of him talking to Anthony about the job so he can get away from his brother. Other scenes including Dignan, Anthony, and Bob talking about the crop of marijuana that Bob is growing along a scene of Dignan wanting to talk to a girl while he’s in the car with Bob and Anthony. Another deleted scene is a recreation of the gun salesman talking that was from the short where the gun salesman talking about guns. One big scene that got cut which is a scene where cops stop at Bob’s neighborhood where Dignan talks with a cop that eventually leads to Dignan, Bob, and Anthony leaving. That leads to another deleted scene of the trio leaving on a car during the day time with Dignan trying to get everyone to be positive.

A scene of Bob feeling frustrated about Dignan is a funny moment because of Dignan overhearing a part of the conversation that is followed by a scene of Bob talking to Dignan about bailing out Futureman. One cut scene has Anthony professing his love for Inez to Dignan while Dignan talks to Mr. Henry on the phone. The last scene is Dignan and Applejack looking out at Bob’s house just before Dignan would talk to Anthony. A lot of the scenes are shown in rough versions but are fun to watch though it’s obvious why they got cut. Another deleted scene that’s shown in the making-of feature is a scene of Kumar doing his plates trick.

One notable special feature is the Anamorphic test scene where Wes Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman make a test scene at a motel during pre-production to get an idea of how Anderson envisioned the scene. It’s a great little deleted scene that gets an idea of how Anderson frames his scenes with some parts shot very roughly. Another special short is The Shafrazi Lectures, No. 1: BOTTLE ROCKET where Tony Shafrazi discusses about seeing the film for the first time while displaying the movie through an art-like presentation in various forms. It’s definitely one of the most interesting lectures about a film as he also discusses how it’s framed while putting the film on a wall and other objects to display it.

Another short that appears in the second disc is a 1978 short film by Barry Braverman called Murita Cycles that was an inspiration to the people involved during the making of the Bottle Rocket short. The 30-minute short is essentially a portrait of Barry’s eccentric father Murray, a laborer who likes to collect objects while running an old bike shop. The short also has interviews with people talking about Murray along with old family footage. It’s a strange short but one that is certainly interesting about a man and his eccentricities. Two other special features are in the form of galleries. First is a storyboard gallery of storyboards by Wes Anderson in how he wants to frame the film. The second gallery is a collection of photos and behind the scenes shots from Laura Wilson, the mother of Luke, Owen, and Andrew Wilson. The photos date back to 1992 from the early rehearsals at the Wilson home to the editing of the film in 1995.

Along with artwork packaging by Ian Dingman for the sleeve and cover of the DVD is a booklet that features Dignan’s 75-year plan and two essays. The first is from Martin Scorsese that originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Esquire. In the essay, Scorsese talks about his love for Bottle Rocket and Wes Anderson as he also discusses about Rushmore and its ending. It’s a short piece but certainly one of the best praise about a film from one of cinema’s finest directors. The second is from producer James L. Brooks from the Rushmore screenplay book in 1999 that served as an introduction to that book. Brooks talks about his first meeting with Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson as well as what went on production including the infamous test screening it had. Brooks also praises Kenneth Turan for his review and championing Bottle Rocket. It’s a wonderful little piece that exemplify the importance of the film. The DVD overall is one of the best of the Criterion Collection and a must-have for fans of Anderson.

***End of DVD Content***

While Bottle Rocket didn't get great reviews or good box office numbers when it came out in 1996, the film did receive a great word-of-mouth commentary from a small group of filmgoers as the film became a hit on video. The movie helped gain Wes Anderson a Best New Filmmaker award at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards while Luke and Owen Wilson became big time actors. Since its release and the recent success of Anderson's later films, 1998's Rushmore and 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket has remained a cult favorite with fans. Anyone who enjoys a caper film with loads of laughs and a lot of heart will find Bottle Rocket enjoyable while it's a nice introduction into the world of Wes Anderson.

© thevoid99 2010

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