‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Surprises; ‘Men in Black3’ Looks Back in Time

Romance Rises in Moonrise Kingdom

By Peter Debruge
Article courtesy of Variety www.variety.com

A Focus Features release presented with Indian Paintbrush of an American Empirical Picture production

Produced by Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson.

Executive producers, Sam Hoffman, Mark Roybal. Co-producers, Molly Cooper, Lila Yacoub.

Directed by Wes Anderson.

Screenplay, Anderson, Roman Coppola.

Capt. Sharp – Bruce Willis
Scout Master Ward – Edward Norton
Mr. Bishop – Bill Murray
Mrs. Bishop – Frances McDormand
Social Services – Tilda Swinton
Sam – Jared Gilman
Suzy – Kara Hayward
Cousin Ben – Jason Schwartzman
The Narrator – Bob Balaba

What is childhood if not an island cut off from the grown-up world around it, and what is first love if not a secret cove known only to the two parties caught in its spell? While no less twee than Wes Anderson’s earlier pictures, “Moonrise Kingdom” supplies a poignant metaphor for adolescence itself, in which a universally appealing tale of teenage romance cuts through the smug eccentricity and heightened artificiality with which Anderson has allowed himself to be pigeonholed. A prestigious opening-night slot at Cannes lends luster to Focus’ May 25 release, but not enough to grow his audience.

While Anderson is essentially a miniaturist, making dollhouse movies about meticulously appareled characters in perfectly appointed environments, each successive film finds him working on a more ambitious scale. Co-written by Roman Coppola, “Moonrise Kingdom” may not be set anywhere so exotic as a Mediterranean boat (“The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”) or a trans-Indian train (“The Darjeeling Limited”), but it feels even more finely detailed than any of his previous live-action outings. Still, the love story reads loud and clear, charming those not put off by all the production’s potentially distracting ornamentation.

Newcomer Kara Hayward plays Suzy, who lives in an overstuffed lighthouse on the East Coast island of New Penzance with three younger brothers and two immature-acting parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). She has captured the heart of Sam (Jared Gilman, also making his bigscreen debut), a 12-year-old orphan and the outcast of his Khaki Scout troop (the other members of which all blur together, hardly distinguishable beyond the varying beige shades of their uniforms).

Sam first spotted Suzy the summer before, and the two have been pen pals ever since, plotting to run away from their not-uncomfortable normal lives in order to spend a week or so roughing it together. While Sam endearingly draws upon the wilderness survival tactics taught by his troop’s otherwise irresponsible Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, looking his most boyish), Suzy proves somewhat less practical, packing several hardcover library books, a battery-powered record player and her pet kitten for the adventure.

Opposite Sam’s ugly duckling, Suzy is already a swan: She listens to French pop and paints her eyes a la Sophia Loren, suggesting the type of girl who’d be running with leather-jacket high-school boys in real life, rather than indulging an awkward, nearsighted daydreamer. And yet Sam, like “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer before him, lacks nothing in self-confidence, rendered all the more hilarious by Gilman’s comical seriousness and slight speech impediment. By contrast, Hayward conveys both intelligence and poise, reminding that young ladies mature faster than boys.

Anderson recently told the New York Times that the girl who inspired Suzy’s character was never even aware of his affections, and that explains a lot. “Moonrise Kingdom” is nothing if not a nostalgic fantasy-reinvention of first love, transposed to 1965 (a fact supplied by Bob Balaban, who doubles as both the pic’s narrator and its most sartorially silly-looking character). Despite the absurdly all-American backdrop, the film reveals a particularly French influence in its use of composer Alexandre Desplat’s sprightly instrumentations and its admirably non-patronizing approach toward adolescents, which recalls the precocious protags of Louis Malle’s “Murmur of the Heart” and “Zazie in the Metro.”

Throughout, the picture retains Anderson’s signature aesthetic: Whether dollying through the rooms of Suzy’s house squarely on-axis or peering straight forward from the bow of Sam’s canoe, the wide-angle 16mm lensing effectively places everything, including outdoor shots, within an artificial proscenium, the camera remaining fixed except for the occasional 90-degree whip pan.

This carefully orchestrated dynamic runs counter to most lovers-on-the-lam movies, where naturalistic acting and handheld cinematography typically enhance the outlaw spirit. In this case, Anderson’s stylized approach masks the young actors’ inexperience, while embracing a familiar genre to draw auds in to Sam and Suzy’s runaway escapade. As his fellow Khaki Scouts organize a search party and her parents enlist the local police captain (a ridiculous-looking Bruce Willis), the couple have few hideout options from which to choose on such a small island.

Eventually, they find a quiet beach, generically labeled “Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet,” and claim it as their own. Thanks to an approaching hurricane, this secret spot will soon exist only in their memories. Naturally, the storm coincides with an elaborate and rather tiresome third-act chase involving Social Services (Tilda Swinton), the Khaki Scouts’ humorless commanding officer (Harvey Keitel) and a dose of weak dramatic irony in the form of a church-theater production of “Noye’s Fludde.”

For the jejune duo, the whole adventure brings their first wave of adult problems; one suspects they will soon long for the days when their troubles could be contained someplace as charmed as New Penzance. In the meantime, “Moonrise Kingdom” represents a sort of non-magical Neverland — that momentous instant when the world can seem so small and a naive crush can feel all-consuming.

Contact Peter Debruge at peter.debruge@variety.com


Black to the future for ‘Men in Black’

With superior sequel, filmmakers break out nebulizers to make fans forget second ‘MIB’

by Lou Lumenick, article courtesy of the NY Post

Running time: 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action, suggestiveness).

For a very belated, obscenely expensive second sequel that perhaps nobody — except accountants at drowning-in-red-ink Sony — was clamoring for, “Men in Black 3” is a reasonably crowd-pleasing and painless experience.

Sure, I might not feel so forgiving if Will Smith’s massive two-story trailer were parked on my street in Manhattan during the film’s interminable production last year.

But this only mildly bloated and convoluted action comedy has enough inspired moments to wipe out memories of the abysmal 2002 first sequel as surely as one of the black-suited heroes’ nebulizers.

Borrowing heavily from “Back to the Future,’’ the new film finesses the second one’s biggest problem — Tommy Lee Jones’ very weary-looking Agent K — by sending Smith’s Agent J back in time to 1969, where he meets a 29-year-old version of Agent K (played, in an uncanny impersonation, by Josh Brolin).

(Never mind that Brolin, in real life, is now 44 and that in 1969, Tommy Lee Jones was 22, rooming at Harvard with Al Gore, and soon to make his film debut as Ryan O’Neal’s roommate in “Love Story”).

This time tripping becomes necessary because Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), a very evil and scary-looking alien who Agent K apprehended in 1969, has escaped from a supermax prison on the moon.

Boris himself has gone back to 1969 to kill K — before the latter destroys his arm, captures him and installs a security shield to protect Earth from an invasion from Boris’ world.

For reasons that aren’t made terribly clear, J is now the only person on Earth who doesn’t believe that K was killed in 1969 — except possibly Agent O (Emma Thompson), the new head of the Men in Black service after the off-screen demise (presumably of natural causes) of Rip Torn’s Agent Zed.

After a breathtaking leap from the Chrysler Building into 1969, J is stopped by the cops for “driving while black” and briefly taken into custody by the younger, notably less crotchety K (who amusingly carries the inevitable brick-size cellphone a decade or two before it was invented, as well as a battery belt for his outsize nebulizer).

The agents finally team up for a raid on Andy Warhol’s Factory — the movie’s best sequence — where they encounter the movie’s most delightful character, an alien named Griff (marvelously played by Michael Stuhlbarg) who can see infinite multiple versions of future events (like the Mets improbably winning the World Series).

The film’s climax takes place at Cape Canaveral (actually known as Cape Kennedy at the time), where J and K need to place the Earth-security device on Apollo 11 before it takes off for the first landing on the moon.

An attempt at pathos — even the dimmest audience member will guess the identity of a black military officer who turns up in an attempt to explain K’s grouchy future mien — doesn’t quite fly, and it seems almost perverse not to utilize the considerable comic chops of Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”).

Director Barry Sonnenfeld, back for his third “MIB,’’ keeps things moving agreeably, and Rick Baker contributes some wonderfully squirmy-looking extraterrestrials, especially for a hilarious raid on a Chinese restaurant that contains most of Jones’ perhaps 15 minutes’ worth of footage.

“Men in Black 3” at one point reveals that Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are extraterrestrials — a throwaway joke that even the filmmakers seem to realize has whiskers after 15 years

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