Notes from the back row 

Murray makes a splash in Life Aquatic

Unfortunately, no Angelina movies this week. But there are some brand new ones, like Racing Stripes , the movie about the tamed zebra that can talk and wants to be a racehorse. It’s kind of like Babe meets Herbie the Lovebug but honestly, it’s not that bad for a childrens’ movie and it also stars the voice of Snoop Dogg as a lazy Bloodhound. Three bong hits and a large popcorn makes Racing Stripes a somewhat tolerable afternoon with the kids.

Also opening this week at the venerable Village 8 is Coach Carter : Pretty much an after-school-special of a movie that is only saved because Samuel L Jackson embodies that super cool, Bad Muthafucka character that everyone admires, respects and fears. You know, the role he played in Pulp Fiction and countless other films.

Another good thing about Coach Carter is the positive education-over-athletics message. Plus it’s based on a true story, and true stories are so heart warming. Still, it’s more than two hours long and climaxes, surprise, surprise, at the big game. Seen it a thousand times, but not too bad actually.

What I haven't seen a thousand times, even though it has been out since Christmas, is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou , which finally opens this week at the Village 8. Aquatic is directed by Wes Anderson, a genius, and stars Bill Murray, who's also a genius. Murray plays Zissou, a strange oceanographer/biologist who makes education films about his scientific discoveries and adventures. Zissou has seen better days but his latest (and perhaps last) adventure is to find the as-of-yet undiscovered "Jaguar Shark" that ate his best friend and kill it with dynamite. The fact that his funding is cut and his wife is sleeping with his nemesis doesn't seem to bother him. Nor does the arrival of Ned (Owen Wilson) a southern bred pilot who may or may not be Zissou’s bastard son. Add in some weird nudity, incredible art direction, CGI creatures, Filipino pirates and a bunch of David Bowie hits in Portuguese and you have entered a Wes Anderson world nearly as strange and enthralling as The Royal Tenenbaums .

Although Bill Murray absolutely makes this movie, the supporting cast ain't too shabby either. Willem Dafoe as the sensitive German engineer, Anjelica Huston has never looked so regal, and Cate Blanchett has never seemed so real and non-movie star-ish.

Aquatic contains themes, ideas, even character traits we've seen from Anderson before, particularly the father-son/ mentor-student dynamic as well as the fall-from-grace/ need-for redemption character arc. The film slightly resembles his Royal Tenenbaums picutre and Life Aquatic has been criticized as being a lower quality rehashing of that. But who cares? The Royal Tenenbaums was one of the smartest, funniest, most unique movies I've seen in the past 10 years and even something half as good as that (which Life Aquatic easily is) is still one of the sharpest comedies in a while.

Screw the low box office numbers; who cares what the critics say? You just can't get this style of intelligent humour from anyone else. Christ, you'd think these other critics don't even watch the movies.

AT VILLAGE 8 Jan. 14-20: Life Aquatic; Racing Stripes; In Good Company; Coach Carter; Elektra; Assault on Precinct 13; Ocean's Twelve; Meet the Fockers; Incredibles; The Aviator.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Jan. 14-20: Flight of the Phoenix

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