Moonrise Kingdom

June 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray
Directed by:
Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”)
Written by:
Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbauns”) and Roman Coppola (“The Darjeeling Limited”)

I couldn’t help but feel conflicted as I was turned away from a sold-out showing at the local indie theater. I’ve logged hours perched firmly atop my soapbox pontificating about how people in this city should embrace independent film and stop ignoring one of the most important theaters in town. Yet there I stood, totally annoyed that after coming to dozens of showings where I’ve literally had an entire row to myself, a 10:30 screening that I wanted to go to was sold out. But what else can you expect when a film from arguably the most popular independent film director comes to town. In his first live-action film since 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited” director Wes Anderson is back with the summer camp coming-of-age love story “Moonrise Kingdom,” a film that feels decidedly Wes Andersonesque, while also exploring new territory.

In the summer of 1965, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) escapes from a summer camp led by overbearing Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton). In escaping, he plans to meet his misunderstood penpal Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) in a field and escape together. After Scout Master Ward and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) discover that they are missing, they team up with the group of Khaki scouts from Sam’s camp and a local policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) set out to find the young runaway lovers.

It is no secret that Anderson prefers sticking to a familiar group of actors to headline his films. While Anderson invites back some familiar faces such as the oft-used Murray and Jason Schwartzman, “Moonrise Kingdom” features surprisingly few veterans from his previous films. For the first time in his career, Anderson doesn’t make use of Owen Wilson in any capacity. Instead, we see veteran actors such as Willis, Norton, and McDormand step into the fold. None of these secondary characters aside from Murray’s are particularly memorable, but Norton delivers the best performance as a scout leader that takes his job too seriously. Perhaps the most interesting difference from Anderson’s previous films is its heavy reliance on unknown kid actors. Fortunately for Anderson, Gilman and Hayward are able to soak up Anderson’s trademark quirk like a sponge. Although this is the first acting credit for both Gilman and Hayward, their lack of experience might have actually served them well. Even though their chemistry is strong, much of the humor and the highlights of the film in general in the film comes from the awkward interactions between the tweens.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is not a particularly hilarious film, but its subtle comedic moments work more often than not. The film takes a while to get its bearings but finds its footing once the audience starts spending time with Sam and Suzy in the wilderness. Despite its slow start, “Moonrise Kingdom” culminates in perhaps the most intricate, exciting and large-scale climax that Anderson has ever attempted, even making use of a few special effects (minor ones; we’re not talking Michael Bay-level here).

There’s plenty to like about “Moonrise Kingdom.” It’s charming, unique and occasionally pretty funny. Devotees of Anderson will be comforted by the familiar overhead and panning shots, offbeat humor, and the fantastic presence of Murray. Even with its highlights, however, something feels unspectacular and minor about the film from the get-go. It’s a good film and a worthy entry into Anderson’s catalog, but “Moonrise Kingdom” feels more like a summer fling than a modern classic tale of young love.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring:  Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)
Written by: Ehren Kruger (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)

Textbooks be damned. The use of alternative histories has been such a go-to fad in cinematic curriculum recently that no one should be surprised if impressionable movie-going kids really start believing vigilante superheroes helped earn America a victory in Vietnam (“Watchmen”) or that young mutants saved the country from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis (“X-Men: First Class”).

Sure, there is an obvious difference between the allegorical political statements in Neill Blomkamp’s apartheid-inspired sci-fi thriller “District 9” and the renegade Jewish soldiers who unload a slew of bullets into Adolf Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” but it’s all in good fun when films mix make-believe scenarios and momentous events of the past. Wouldn’t more people know the history behind the Louisiana Purchase if Napoleon Bonaparte was really a French cyborg soldier?

If anyone in Hollywood needed to avoid rewriting the history books it should have been director Michael Bay, who had already mortified WWII history buffs by making 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” into a foolish wartime soap opera. And yet, a decade later, Bay is back with a unique variation on the Apollo 11 spaceflight in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third — and hopefully final — installment of the action- adventure franchise based on the Hasbro toy line of the ’80s. Yes, it’s better than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” but that doesn’t say much, since the second movie had the aesthetics of what could only be described as rusty robot porn.

In “Dark of the Moon,” Bay and returning screenwriter Ehren Kruger decide the July 1969 lunar landing by NASA was more than just a space mission to beat the Soviets to the moon, a goal we see President John F. Kennedy lay out to Congress six years prior via old news reels and mediocre digital re-imaging. Instead, the objective for Apollo 11’s astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is to investigate the mysterious crash landing of an object on the moon’s surface, which turns out to be an Autobot spacecraft containing technological secrets.

Flash forward to present time and a carefully crafted close-up of the panty-covered backside of Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model with Walmart-brand personality) strutting up the stairs to her hero boyfriend Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is quick to brag about the presidential medal he received for saving the world but can’t land a job that makes him feel as relevant as he did when he was part of the Autobot forces.

A regular 9-to-5 job will have to wait when an exiled Megatron (Hugo Weaving) returns to Earth to once again lead the Decepticons against Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his Autobots, now working across the globe to protect the human race. When the Decepticons figure out a way to use the Autobots’ technology for their benefit, a new battle begins between the robot races. Sam and his military cohorts find themselves in the middle of a Chicago warzone leaping from crumbling buildings and dodging twisted metal, all in glorious and exhausting 3-D.

Some of the startling computer-generated visuals are what actually make “Dark of the Moon” tolerable, even at an inhumane runtime of 154 minutes. As with most of his films, however, Bay doesn’t take the less-is-more approach when it comes to spectacle. That he saves for his convoluted screenplay and flat human characterizations.

Quirky history aside, “Dark of the Moon” is exactly how you’d expect Bay to end the bankable trilogy. Let’s just hope a promise from LaBeouf to not return for a fourth will be enough to put this series to rest. At least, that is, until we find out Thomas Edison patented Megatron’s weaponry.

Burn After Reading

September 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”)

It would only be natural if you flinched a bit when you found out the recently Oscar’ed Coen Brothers would return to the comedy genre after their success with the suspenseful and fascinating “No Country for Old Men.” Not since 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” has the genre been good to them, although some may argue “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was a minor triumph.

Still, “Intolerably Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” were not up to form for directors who had helmed one of the best dark comedies of all time in “Fargo.” It’s good to see them slowly finding that niche again in their new film.

In “Burn After Reading,” the nation’s security is in jeopardy (well, sort of) when employees of a local fitness center, including Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), find a disc they think contains top secret CIA information.

With a bitter, recently separated ex-spook named Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) on their backs, Chad and Linda decide they are going to milk their discovery as much as possible and see how far blackmailing someone can take them.

Linda, who’s tired of trolling on internet dates sites for the perfect man, has been longing for a few plastic surgery procedures her insurance refuses to cover so she can be more attractive, while peppy Chad is simply excited about being a part of the adventure. Academy Award winner George Clooney (“Syriana”) plays Harry Pfarrer, a delusional governmental employee with food allergies who’s been sleeping around with Osborne’s cold wife Katie (Tilda Swinton). Relationships continue to cross paths in this comedy of errors as the Coens write up a breezy little spoof that pushes the plot in bizarre and sometimes unbelievable ways.

The main problem with “Burn” is that the Coens haven’t developed characters as much as they have created caricatures of real people. It’s different when we’re talking about eccentricities like John Tuturro’s Jesus Quintana in “Lebowski” or even Clooney’s grease-loving Everett in “O Brother” because they seem to be in this completely different world devoid of any sanity. In “Burn,” however, many of the characters feel too manufactured in Anytown, USA. Their exaggerated stupidity can be endearing, but most of the time you’re thinking how no one can possibly be this dumb and needy.

Still, the Coens recipe for humor laden with violence is second to none and all the principal players give enjoyably jovial performances. It really is the Coen’s funniest film since giving us The Dude 10 years ago.