Sunday, June 25, 2023

Asteroid City


Written and directed by Wes Anderson from a story by Anderson and Roman Coppola, Asteroid City is the story of a convention set in a fictional desert town where the event is being disrupted by events that would change the world. Set in the 1950s, the film is an exploration where a group people attending this event for kids with parents attending as they deal with what might be happening. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Sophia Lillis, Grace Edwards, and Jeff Goldblum. Asteroid City is a whimsical yet exhilarating film from Wes Anderson.

Set in a desert town near the California-Nevada border in the 1950s, the film revolves around a group of people attending a three-day convention for Junior Stargazers where five of its cadets are to receive awards as well as a special scholarship when an alien arrives and everything goes wrong. It is a film that explores a group of people that includes a grieving photographer with a family of four, his cantankerous father-in-law, a film star with her daughter, a school teacher with a group of young students, parents with their kids attending the event, and a singing cowboy as they all are part of this convention held by a war general and an astronomer. Yet, the story is essentially being told by a TV host (Bryan Cranston) who reveals that the story is being created a troubled playwright who goes through many difficulties in creating the play with a womanizing play director and other actors.

Wes Anderson’s screenplay that is based on a story he created with Roman Coppola as it explores a man trying to create this story of loss and uncertainty in a desert town where its visitors end up staying in due to their encounter with the alien as it serves as an allegory of the events of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-2021. The story is interspersed with playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) trying to create his play as he has issues with some of his actors while dealing with its director Schubert Green (Adrien Brody) who is going through his own issues. The script plays into Earp’s trying to stage this play and find meaning while the story within the story showcase many characters not only deal with being in quarantine by the government following their encounter with the alien with the war photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) dealing with grief over the death of his wife but also in trying to tell his kids about it as he finds companionship in the film star Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) who is also going through her own issues as well as continuously playing troubled and abused women when her gift is comedy.

Anderson’s direction definitely bears a lot of the visual styles he’s known for with his unique approach to tracking shots, camera movements, striking compositions, and other things that he’s known for. Yet, there is also this theatrical element he brings to play into this idea of theater as it plays into the Earp storyline as it also include some unique camera angles as many of those scenes are shot in black-and-white and in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio while much of the film is shot in color in a 2:39:1 aspect ratio. Shot on location in Spain with the town of Chinchon being its nearby location, Anderson creates a world that is quite offbeat where the locations are reminiscent of the American westerns by John Ford yet they’re infused with bits of sci-fi as it play into the inventions the five young kids have created as well as the encounter with the alien as some of the visual effects are a combination of stop-motion animation, miniatures, and other practical effects including a roadrunner that Steenbeck’s three daughters keep meeting.

For a film that blends a lot of genres, Anderson was able to balance it while maintaining a sense of humor where he also manages to make fun of his own visual style in his approach to wide and medium shots. Even in the tight close-ups he’s created that play into some of the emotional moments of the characters as well as medium shots in the way Anderson captures conversations between Steenbeck and Campbell in their respective homes. Anderson would also maintain a different approach in his direction that is looser for the scenes involving Earp and his world as it has this sense of theatricality in the way scenes are presented as well as the usage of wide shots as it all plays into Earp trying to find meaning in his story and what he wanted to say despite frustrating his actors in the project. Especially as the ending plays into Steenbeck’s journey through loss and his own issues where realizes what he must do for his family. In the end, Anderson crafts an intoxicating and riveting film about a troubled playwright who creates a story about a Junior Stargazers convention being disrupted by a visiting alien.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman does incredible work with the black-and-white look of the Earp scenes that has some unique lighting approaches to the rooms while the scenes on the city are shown with vibrant colors to play into the look of the 1950s. Editor Barney Pilling, with additional editing by Andrew Weisblum, does brilliant work with the editing as it has elements of style as it play into the film’s comedic tone with some rhythmic cuts but also with some cuts that add to the drama and suspense without deviating into conventional methods like fast-cuts. Production designer Adam Stockhausen with supervising art director Stephane Cressend plus set decorators Kris Moran, Sonia Nolla, and Gabriel Picola, does amazing work with the look of the city with its houses, its diner, the science observatory, other buildings and a partially-built highway ramp that remains unfinished along with the look of Earp’s home and the stage sets around him. Costume designer Milena Canonero does excellent work with the costumes in the stylish clothes many of the people at Asteroid City wear that are colorful to the more refined look for the scenes from Earp’s perspective.

Hair/makeup designer Julie Dartnell does fantastic work with the look of Midge in her black hairdo as well as Steenbeck’s beard and other facial props that he wears as his acting persona. Special effects supervisor Pau Costa and special effects designer Carlos Laguna, along with visual effects supervisor Tim Ledbury, do terrific work with the visual effects in the design of the alien and the little road runner that has this element of stop-motion animation, practical effects, and miniatures as it is a highlight of the film. Sound editors Wayne Lemmer and Christopher Scarabosio do superb work with the sound in some of the sound effects created for the scenes at Asteroid City as well as the sounds of atomic bomb sites far from the city as well as the sparse sounds in the Earp scenes.

The film’s music by Alexandre Desplat is phenomenal for its melodic-based orchestral score that has this element of sci-fi and drama with its rich string arrangements, piano riffs, woodwinds, and other instrumentation that adds to the film’s charm. Music supervisor Randall Poster creates a fun soundtrack that largely consists of country/western music from the 1950s with music from Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys, Slim Whitman, Les Baxter, Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys, Tex Ritter, Bill Monroe, Burl Ives, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, Bing Crosby, Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group with Nancy Whiskey, a classical piece from Johann Pachelbel, and a couple of original songs from Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley as the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal.

The casting by Douglas Aibel is tremendous as it is a large ensemble that includes appearances from Rita Wilson as the mother of one of the Junior Stargazer’s friends, Seu Jorge and Jarvis Cocker as a couple of cowboy musicians, Bob Balaban as an executive for a corporation, Fisher Stevens as a detective investigating the alien encounter, the trio of Ella Faris, Grace Faris, and Willan Farris as Steenbeck’s daughters, and Tony Revolori as General Gibson’s aide-de-camp for the scenes set in Asteroid City. Other notable small roles for the scenes set in the stage and rehearsals include Hong Chau as Schubert’s estranged wife Polly Green who is divorcing him, Willem Dafoe as the revered acting teacher Saltzburg Keitel who holds a seminar with Earp and Schubert, Jeff Goldblum as an actor playing the alien for the play, and Margot Robbie in a small yet crucial dual role as the picture of Steenbeck’s late wife and the actress who was supposed to play her as she appears late in the film in a memorable scene.

The quintet of Aristou Meehan, Ethan Josh Lee, Sophia Lillis, Grace Edwards, and Jake Ryan are superb in their respective roles as the Junior Stargazer awardees in Clifford Kellogg, Ricky Cho, Shelly Borden, Dinah Campbell, and Woodrow Steenbeck as the young kids who all invent something with Kellogg is eager to do dares to the annoyance of his father while Cho is a young kid who has issues with the authority following their encounter with the alien. Lillis’ performance as Borden showcases a young girl who has humor but is also someone that wants to unify everyone while Edwards’ performance as Campbell is more subdued as someone who copes in being in her mother’s shadow though she knows her mother cares about her. Ryan’s performance as Steenbeck and as an understudy in the Earp sequences who tries to get an actress back in the show, is terrific in showcasing a young man coping with loss but also the encounter with the alien where he deals with a lot of questions while has fallen for Dinah.

Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, and Stephen Park are fantastic in their respective roles as Sandy Borden, J.J. Kellogg, and Roger Cho as the parents who deal with not just being quarantined in the town as well as raising genius kids while Steve Carell is excellent as the motel manager of Asteroid City who finds ways to make some money as well as hoping to sell land for anyone that is interested. Rupert Friend and Maya Hawke are brilliant in their respective roles as the singing cowboy Montana and the schoolteacher June Douglas as two people who become interested in one another while they both play actors in the Earp sequences where the former sports a British accent. Tilda Swinton, Matt Dillon, and Jeffrey Wright are amazing in their respective roles as the scientist Dr. Hickenlooper, the mechanic, and General Grif Gibson with Swinton being a scientist trying to make sense of things while she finds hope in Steenbeck and the Junior Stargazers.

Dillon’s performance as the mechanic is low-key yet memorable as someone who does what he can to fix things but also make art through cars while Wright’s performance as General Gibson is restrained as someone that is trying to maintain order despite the chaos he’s dealing with. The trio of Bryan Cranston, Adrien Brody, and Edward Norton are incredible in their respective roles as the TV announcer, play director Schubert Green, and the playwright Conrad Earp with Cranston being this humorous TV announcer who sort of serves as the film’s narrator while Brody brings a lot of charisma as Green as this director trying to make sense of the play while dealing with his own personal issues. Norton’s performance as Earp is a real standout as someone who is trying to create a great play while also having issues with actors and others over its content as he also deals with his own reputation.

Finally, there’s the trio of Tom Hanks, Jason Schwartzman, and Scarlett Johansson in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Augie’s father-in-law Stanley Zak, the widowed war photographer Augie Steenbeck/actor Jones Hall, and the film star Midge Campbell/actress Mercedes Ford. Hanks brings a lot of wit to his character as a man who hates Augie as well as dealing with loss and being quarantined in Asteroid City. Schwartzman’s performance as Augie is restrained in showcasing a man coping with loss while his performance as the actor Hall shows a man who is frustrated with Earp’s writing as well as trying to figure out what his character needs to do. Johansson’s performance as Campbell as this movie star who often plays abused women where she often wears makeup to get in character as she is someone who feels stifled as she wants to do comedy while Johansson’s performance as Ford as this actress who has issues with Earp until an understudy convinces her to return to the show as it is one of Johansson’s finest performances.

Asteroid City is a sensational film from Wes Anderson. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, its offbeat narrative that explores art and loss in a unique world, and a witty music soundtrack. The film has a lot of things expected from Anderson but also showcases him dealing with a world where they have no control in its situation with an artist struggling to find ideas in an ever-changing world. In the end, Asteroid City is a spectacular film from Wes Anderson.

Wes Anderson Films: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Hotel Chevalier - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - Moonrise Kingdom - Castello Cavalcanti - The Grand Budapest Hotel - Isle of Dogs - The French Dispatch - The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar - (The Swan) - (The Rat Catcher) - (Poison) - (The Phoenician Scheme) - The Auteurs #8: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson Film Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom) – (The Grand Budapest Hotel) – (Isle of Dogs) – (The French Dispatch) – (Asteroid City)

© thevoid99 2023


keith71_98 said...

Yep, Yep, Yep. Hoping to see it again this weekend after Indy.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-nice. For me, I'm going to wait for whatever streaming service it's on and the upcoming Criterion Blu-Ray. Besides, there's a 4K restoration of a famed concert film that I plan to see a week from Sunday in celebration of the 50th anniversary of David Bowie's final concert as Ziggy Stardust with new footage featuring the late, great Jeff Beck.

ruth said...

Wes Anderson is a bit of a hit and miss for me. Glad to hear this one is good, I haven't got around to it but will catch it once it arrives on streaming.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-This is a better film than the last one he did as I feel it was tighter but also did a lot more with its ensemble.

Brittani Burnham said...

I'm finally going to see this tonight! I can't wait

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I hope you enjoy it. Fuck Elon Musk for ruining Twitter as I enjoy reading your Twitter scroll.