Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's Wes Anderson's world, and we wish we could live in it

(directed by Wes Anderson, 2012)

If hipsters had a heaven, you can bet everything would be framed precisely in the center.

Which is to say that for Wes Anderson fans, “Moonrise Kingdom” is about as good as it gets. Gone is the cloying self-consciousness, the hip detachment, the willingness to create genuine human moments only to undercut them, all of which plague his films at their worst.

Or wait. That’s not exactly true. That’s all still there; his tricks haven’t left. Instead he presents these tropes that are the comforting reminder of a Wes Anderson world, then snatches them from beneath us to present a world of true melancholy, warmth, and honesty.

What results is one whimsical concoction that’s not entirely like anything else in theaters this year. And yet that’s true for all Anderson movies, isn’t it? Love him or hate him, how many directors can screen any random five seconds of any of their movies, and you instantly know whose it is? What a rare and precious gift that is.

That this movie’s making money is even more encouraging. Anderson breaks through to the multiplex crowds, and he does it without condescending or changing what makes him special. Never in “Moonrise Kingdom” do we catch a whiff of Anderson sacrificing his artistic ideals. Instead he AMPLIFIES them, and forces the audiences to bend to his auteur groove.

Set on a 1960s island that might well have sprung from a picture book, “Moonrise Kingdom” concerns two preteen outcasts. One is Sam, the outcast of a summer scout camp for cub scouts, who was probably born wearing his glasses. The other is Suzy, who lives on the island and runs away with Sam as a hurricane rapidly looms overhead. This jailbreak doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as the island leaves relatively little space for them to hide. But hey, it’s an adventure for a week.

Maybe they’re genuinely in love. Maybe they’re just infatuated with the idea that someone else seems to understand them. It doesn’t matter. Anderson treats it with utmost respect just the same. Bill Murray also shows up because of course he does. And this being Bill Murray, his eyes reveal enough lurking melancholy to render the screenplay moot.

Throughout all this, Anderson fills his canvas with colors, but not the sort that call attention to themselves. It’s mostly a series of muted greens and khakis, amplifying the natural landscape and the scouts’ uniforms themselves. All as if to say this world feeds off and mirrors those that occupy it. There might as well not be any people on the island outside those concerned to the movie.

Not a frame gets wasted. Not a frame calls attention to itself or feels like it’s showing off or exists for its own sake. Anderson is in complete command of his craft here, tailoring every image to simultaneously inform, entertain, and enchant.

Hipsters get a bad reputation, and with good reason, because they suck. But maybe that’s the easy way out. The way of standing back and judging that which we do not care enough to understand. What makes people loathe hipsters (along with many other reasons) is their conscious effort to appear different. Knowing they’re cool isn’t enough. We all need to be subjected to it too.

That’s too simplistic, though. Empathy is one of the most important human emotions, and key in this case is to recognize the human longing lurking beneath.

All this to say that “Moonrise Kingdom” feels like Anderson’s own response to his earlier work. He returns to the familiar twee tropes. But then reminds us there’s a real beating heart in there too.

What a magical place his mind must be.

There's more to Batman than a chin

(directed by Christopher Nolan, 2012)

“The Dark Knight Rises” represents a ton of money thrown at the screen, a bit of thought thrown at the writing, and a Batman fan’s willingness to forgive. As a climax to possibly the most respected superhero franchise of all time, it only mildly satisfies. But boy, as a climax, it sure keeps going, even if this Batman movie has relatively little Batman. I remember Woody Allen’s line about orgasms – “My worst one was right on the money.”

Is it even fair to judge a movie based on its own hype? Director Christopher Nolan sure did himself no favors with his predecessor “The Dark Knight,” which dressed up a bunch of simple psychobabble about good and evil as handsomely as you’re likely to find in a summer popcorn flick.

Let’s step in a vacuum, then, shove memories of Nolan’s previous Batman movies aside, and judge the movie for what it is. Which shall be unfortunate. For this trip around, his ambition gets the better of him. Inconsistent pacing and too much damn plot mars the first half of the movie, until it has no choice but to blaze through the last half. I can’t recall a 2:45 minute movie that feels rushed, but could also use a trim of at least 30 minutes.

Nolan’s screenplay, with brother Jonathan, proves that as plate spinners, they’d never exactly make it on Ed Sullivan. After a sensational opening sequence involving our new villain Bane (an impressively cube-y Tom Hardy) escaping from a plane mid-flight, we settle in for a long series of events you should probably just look up on Wikipedia. This review would have to copy most of the plot points from it anyway.

Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne moans in his mansion before he decides to stop doing that, meets Catwoman (a spunky Anne Hathaway) and stops moaning for a bit, then finds himself brutally beaten by Bane and sent to a mysterious hole-in-the-ground prison across the world (which will be a real bitch to fill in if Wal-Mart ever decides to expand), where he moans for a while longer until Hans Zimmer’s adaption of “Push It To The Limit” plays in his head and he escapes to save Gotham.

Meanwhile, Bane enslaves Gotham in a fascist regime, all bridges to the outside world cut off and its citizens left to suffer under his rule. I guess his goal is to equalize the ruling classes with the peasants. Of course he also plans to destroy the city in a nuclear blast, which kinda renders his entire operation moot. But nevermind.

Lest you think I’m having fun blasting the movie, leaning back in my leather chair, snarky comments dispensed and a day well spent, “The Dark Knight Rises” has too much going for it to simply cast it aside. Ambition possibly did the movie in, but in the world of summer action flicks, ambition DOES count for something.

 In a time when movies are either seen on computer screens or cramped multiplex bunkers, Nolan paints on the entire canvas. When was the last time you saw a comic book movie create a world that’s so utterly its own? Even in the first half of the movie, where I admit I don’t have much clue who is doing what to whom at what times, Nolan envelopes us in a brooding shroud that at least makes it sensational to look at. None of this is much fun. But it carries a genuine weight.

In the end, most of the praise heaped on the movie will reference concept, not execution. While Nolan’s previous Batmans delivered complex plots that still felt relatively streamlined, this one’s a jumble. But even if Santa Claus’ sleigh couldn’t quite stick the landing, he’s still a jolly man who gives presents to people. And in the world of summer and superheroes, eh, lets take it.