25 November 2012

Movies: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748122/

Subdued comedy/drama/romance

Time: late summer, 1965. Place: 16 mile-long small island in New England
Sam is a 12 year-old orphan spending his summer with Khaki Scout troop 55. Considered "emotionally disturbed," none of the other kids like him. 12 year-old Suzy lives with her parents and three younger brothers across the island and feels completely misunderstood. Her only friends are her kitten and books she steals from the library. A year earlier Sam met Suzy backstage at a play. After exchanging a few words they started a pen pal friendship.
Sam runs away from the Khaki Scouts (with a reveal straight out of "Shawshank Redemption"), hikes across the island and meets up with Suzy. Together they run away.  Meanwhile the Khaki Scouts, the island police man and Suzy's parents try to track them down and bring them home.

A film by Wes Anderson of "Rushmore," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "The Royal Tennenbaums" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" fame. I watched this film solely because it's a Wes Anderson film. I've been a fan of his flicks since "Rushmore" so he gets an automatic watch. I'm usually in a state of mind prepared to like his films. I had expectations, and I wasn't disappointed.

Stars a couple of kids I've never heard of as Sam and Suzy*. The cast includes Bruce Willis as the island police man, Edward Norton as the Khaki Scout Troop 55 leader, Frances McDormand as Suzy's mom, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, and Harvey Keitel as Khaki Scout HQ leader.  That ensemble alone would make any film interesting. Plus Bill Murray (Suzy's dad) and Jason Schwartzman (Khaki Scout Hullabaloo Supplies and Resources manager) are in the cast, of course, as it's a Wes Anderson film. I say "of course" because both are Wes Anderson film regulars.

The film has indie film looks, but they're accomplished in a very polished manner. Certain camera shots harken back to compositions Anderson has developed in his previous films.  But the film's bigger accomplishment is how it looks and feels like a 1965 magazine spread. It's rather a neat effect - with the subdued color palette. It puts the viewer right in the proper era.
The kids deliver a matter-of-fact performance, their lines and actions are delivered more like they are reading a story out loud.  Usually that annoys me, but I think those performances are intentional. After I got used to it I found it contributed to the film's charm. Especially as the two actually get to spend time together and navigate awkward friendship beyond what they've developed as pen pals.
Wes Anderson pretty much captures what it is like to be 12 years old back in the '60s, misunderstood, on the cusp of discovering relationships and meeting a person that's in the same place and just 'gets' you.
Another thing I liked is that the events and performances weren't delivered to be viewed through the lens of 2012's perception, but one more tuned to 1960s-70s childhood. I almost felt nostalgic, so I wonder if folks from generations than mine will have a harder time identifying with the film?

The film has some amusing scenes, some scenes a bit more serious, some are surreal. Even has a thrilling chase sequence or two. It delivers a visual representation of embellished storytelling. There is even a period-appropriate narrator to provide big picture context and he looks like he stepped out of a 60's-era grade school history film. 

Like I said, I have a predilection for Wes Anderson flicks and he hasn't yet disappointed me, even though a couple of his films didn't quite do it for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, the wife bailed early on like she seems to do with most Wes Anderson flicks.  I guess I just like the quirky films more than she.

So, if you've not ever seen a Wes Anderson film this is as good as any to give him a shot. If you like it, check out his others.

* I've seen no mention of the classic Captain and Tennille version of the song "Muskrat Love" being any sort of inspiration for this film, even though the main characters are named "Suzy" and "Sam" and some story plot points could easily be seen as parallel to the song. Probably just accidental. 

21 November 2012

Movies: 4:44 Last Day on Earth

4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707391/


It's the last day on Earth. The ozone layer is completely depleted and everything on Earth will begin to die at 4:44 AM EST.  We spend the final 12 or so hours with Cisco and his girlfriend Skye.

Stars Willem Dafoe as Cisco and some gal I've never seen before, Shanyn Leigh, as Skye.

Yeah, I chose to watch this 'cause of Dafoe. Guess I shouldn't just choose films like that without doing a little reading up. There was a brief appearance by Natasha Lyonne (American Pie series) and Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire). Although I didn't even realize that brief street encounter was de la Huerta until the credit roll.

I just couldn't "get into" this film. The premise sounded sort of appealing. On one hand it's a neat mental exercise to wonder how you'd spend your last 12 hours on Earth when you fully know ahead of time when it is going to end. On the other hand, especially in this instance, it wasn't so neat an experience to sit and watch the final 12 hours with this pair at the center. Drama? More like dryawnma. Oh yeah, and it also seemed like one long running commercial for Skype, and, to a lesser extent, Apple computers.

Not complaining about the cast or production, those aspects were fine. But the story and the film as a whole just bored me through to the end. I stuck around waiting to see if there would be some pay off to make it worth it. Nah. Never happened. I didn't like nor dislike the people, I didn't feel any need to care about them or their fate. I couldn't put myself in their shoes, and I didn't feel compelled to sit and watch them either.
Luckily the final 12 hours only took an hour and a half of screen time, although at times it was sort of feeling like real time. ugh. I'd more readily sit through the first half of "Melancholia" again before sitting through this one, 'cause at least "Melancholia" does have some rewards.

So, yeah, I'm sure there exists people who enjoy the film. I'm not one of 'em.

20 November 2012

Movies: Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1862079/

Idie drama/comedy/romance/sci-fi

Jeff. a writer from a Seattle-based magazine, pitches doing a story about whoever wrote the following advertisement:
"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED"

He brings along two interns, Darius and Arnau,  to help with research. Jeff knows that the contact information is his old hometown, so in reality he just wants to meet and possibly hook up with his old high-school girlfriend, the story is an excuse to get a paid vacation back home. The interns stake out the post office and figure out who authored the advertisement, a guy named Kenneth. Jeff tries to approach the guy but Kenneth doesn't trust him and tells him he won't do. So Jeff sends intern Darius, because she's a girl and maybe Kenneth would be more receptive.

It's a quirky comedy with decent dialog and acting. It is based on an actual want ad. Really. The author had inserted it as a last minute space filler while laying out the want ads page for the magazine he worked for. It caught some folks' attention and was even featured on Leno's Tonight Show. Thus this film's inspiration.
But pay attention. Questions will be raised by conversational details seeming to change over time. Was Kenneth deluded? Was Darius telling a situational lie? But after you see the ending of the film, think about how those conversational details changed. Could it be...?

I recognize some of the folks in the film. Darius is played by Aubrey Plaza, whom I recognize from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and especially "Mystery Team".  Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe in "24") makes an appearance as the magazine editor. Even Kristen Bell has a little cameo. The guy that wrote the original ad even makes a quick cameo.

I liked it. It has the look and feel of a low budget indie film. Competent camera work, good sound, coherent editing including the stereotypical indie-sounding music soundtrack. The major characters get developed about as much as needed to deliver the story, the supporting folks get just enough depth to keep them from being cliche cardboard props. Reminded me of other indie films like early Wes Anderson flicks or "Little Miss Sunshine". Just enough budget to put a solid film together but lacking that big-budget Hollywood spit and polish and overproduction. Which is good. It's an intimate film and the indie style keeps it intimate without production intrusion.

So, IMO, a decent flick for that lazy saturday afternoon when you'd like a little light comedy that's entertaining and put together well.