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I am truly of the belief that a great film is a lot like a great mix tape in that you enjoy the journey so much that you instantly want to watch it as soon as it ends. This it is safe to say is once again the case with Wes Anderson's latest film, who has once again teamed up with Roman Coppola (Son of Francis Ford, Brother of Sofia and cousin of Nicolas Cage) to bring us his tale of star crossed lovers Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) living on the New England coast who after a chance meeting become pen pals before plotting to run away together to the secluded cove from which the film takes its name from, all the while attempting to elude the search / rescue / capture party which has been launched to find them by Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Sam's Khaki Scout troop.
After the shall we say interesting (read: essentially rewritten) take on the classic children's book "Fantastic Mr. Fox", a film which was greeted with decidedly mixed opinion, especially by those familiar with Roald Dahl's original but not Anderson's quirky film making style let alone willing to accept his reworked version of such a cherished story. Now back on more familiar ground Anderson's latest film feels is in many ways his most accessible film since "Rushmore", a film which finally helped myself finally get Anderson's work. Still while perhaps more accessible than some of this other films like "The Royal Tenenbaums" or "The Darjeeling Limited", this latest film still bares all of his usual quirky trademarks such as his continual use of title cards, primary colours (this time fresh grass greens and Khaki browns) aswell as a new group of colorful characters to add to his ever expanding universe.
Interestingly this film also features fewer members of his usual acting troupe whom have followed him from film to film, something especially noticeable this time around with the absence of Owen Wilson, who Anderson has been keen to note was not due to any kind of personal dispute when carrying out the promotion for the film. Still both Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are on hand to ensure that the familiarity is maintained, while like so many of the adult cast taking more of a backseat to the younger cast, while Bruce Willis and Edward Norton are clearly relishing the freedom that comes working on an indie film, let alone getting to play slightly different characters than we are used to seeing them play, with Norton once more on amazing form as the bumbling Khaki Scout leader Randy. However it is the surprise sudden appearance by Harvey Keitel as the blustering head of the Khaki scouts while Tilda Swindon, appearing here as the appropriately titled Social Services, sadly despite giving another wonderful performance never makes the same impact of some of the other characters, let alone presenting the kind of threat expected from her character.
The real breakout performances here though are given by the two young leads, both making their debuts here, though you honestly would not believe it considering the amount of confidence, let alone believability they bring to their individual roles, processing real onscreen chemistry despite their two characters being seemingly so mismatched with Sam being a quiet and seemingly emotionally detached watercolors enthusiast, while Suzy's loves resolve around her binoculars, stolen library books and kitten. Still like Sam she is equally detached from her parents and ultimately the perfect couple for Anderson and his enduring love for misfits. True their dialogue might not often be overly realistic, as is the case for so many of the child characters here, with Sam and Suzy often coming off as being brutally frank with their dialogue, while Anderson sacrifices realism in favour of individualism as especially the case with the Khaki scouts, which considering how amusing their conversations with each other are, such as deciding if they should arm themselves when hunt down Sam after he escapes from camp to meet up with Suzy and due to this I found it hard to fault Anderson's decision here.
Once again Anderson brings us usual creative and visual flair to the film, with long time collaborator Robert D. Yeoman once again providing some truly stunning cinematography, which contains all of Anderson's usual trademark symbolism and iconography and visual gags, while even managing to top the cutaway ship from "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" as he here gives us a cutaway tour of Suzy's house which despite being a gimmick he's used before is none the less effective here and only adds to the already playful camerawork which plays so prominently throughout with the frequent use of single shot sequences and long pans really immersing the viewer into the quirky world which Anderson has once more crafted here.
Sadly were the film fails is with it's rushed final act, which has the feeling that Anderson had no real idea how to end the film and may go in some way to explaining the lack of develop that Swindon's Social services, especially when the film seemingly wraps up things suddenly after such a minor chase sequence, that it almost feels like an afterthought. Luckily the journey to this point is so enjoyable that it almost covers for such a carless if ultimately predictable ending.
While perhaps not everyone's tastes, this is Anderson once more at his most accessible, while the established fan base and indie cinema fans will no doubt lap this up, while the initiated may still struggle to see what the fuss is about.
Star - Wes Andersen
Genre - Comedy
County - USA
Certificate - 12A
Run Time - 94 minutes
Blockbusters - £3.50 per night
Amazon - £5.00 DVD (£7.00Blue Ray)
Wes Andersen is one of those directors you either really enjoy his stuff or just go along with it, me the later. I thought The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic (2004) tried to do too many "alternative" things at once and so didn't make me laugh much, whilst Rushmore (1998) and Bottle Rocket (1996) were quirky and interesting films that did engage me. He is also a director that seems more famous than his cannon of work accomplishments. You can hardly call any of his films really good and yet he has such a good reputation in Hollywood with three Oscar nominations. But hey, what do I know.
Moonrise Kingdom is classic Andersen, the children exaggeratingly mature, the adults almost childlike, a joke that wears thin, why he has made only 7 films in 15 years, his treats rather rich and so best just eat no more than one at a time. The rise of Wes Andersen is married with the regenerated Billy Murray; the lugubrious and unfunny version that has featured in all of Andersen's feature films in some shape of form, this relationship rather odd if you ask me. Exactly why he helped turn the hilarious and naughty Ghostbusters and 'Groundhog Day' Bill Murray into the humorless one that meandered through Tokyo with Starlett Johansson for two boring hours we will never know although we hate them both for it. On the other side of the coin, Moonrise Kingdom is the first Wes Andersen film not to feature the extremely loveable Owen Wilson.
Kingdom has Wes Andersen most ensemble cast to date as his reputation grows and a mix of mainstream Hollywood stars want to be seen as more eclectic and interesting by having his name on their CVs, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton and Ed Norton the latest willing recruits. Willis, of course, played a cop.
Jared Gilman as Sam Shakusky
Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop
Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp
Edward Norton as Scout Master Randy Ward
Bill Murray as Walt Bishop
Frances McDormand as Laura Bishop
Tilda Swinton as Social Services
Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben
Harvey Keitel as Commander Pierce
Bob Balaban as Narrator
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Roosevelt
On the island of New Penzance off the coast of New England, 12-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is attending Camp Ivanhoe, summer camp for Scouts, doing what he loves best. He has all the badges and expects more this season. But he has been distracted by the bewitching and equally oddball Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a fellow 12-year-old he briefly met a year ago last summer camp, Suzy resident on New penzance, lawyer dad Walt (Bill Murray) and lawyer mum Laura (Frances McDormand) strict and bonkers at the same time.
The youngsters have been pen friends since and maybe more if their secret plan goes well. Sam intends jumps camp early morning and meet Suzy, the two running off together to the secluded side of the island to play records and write poetry. Suzy has bought six books and a wind up record player and Sam, like a good scout does, food making utensils, a tent and navigation equipment, their plan to stay on the run for at least two nights of being grown ups, whatever they may entail.
When they are discovered to be missing the authorities of New Penzance whip up a possy, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) keenly leads his boys to the north of the island and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and others operating a pincer movement to the south. Alas, this is not the biggest of islands and the kids soon captured, just as they experiment with their first kiss and slow dance to Edith Piaf on the said record player, as sophisticated lovebirds like them would. But once back home orphan Sam is threatened with being put into care by social services (Tilda Swinton) for his persistent bad behavior, if a parent sponsor can't be found, meaning the two run off again. This boy just needs a father figure and the men on the island need to start acting like one if the kid is to be fixed.
The word 'quaint' comes to mind when watching this movie, and not always for the good. I rented it knowing it was Wes Andersen so ready for the lingering iridescent immaculate prose and location, every scene like viewing a painting in the national gallery, every word toiled over burning the midnight oil. But after a while all those paintings look the same in the Andersen Gallery and however much the guide tells you the importance of why the naked lady is leaning that way and the gentleman's ruff is 'fluffed' like this, it all gets rather 'samey', the case with Moonrise Kingdom. Yes, it's an extremely well made movie, but too much time has been spent on the look over the feel of the thing. I just didn't get emotionally involved in this film, as I didn't in The Royal Tenenbaums, as I almost did in The Life Aquatic. I need to like the characters or chuckle at the obtuse casting in a film like this and certainly need a belly laugh or two, but just gentle humor on offer here. I did giggle at the early Sheepshank Redemption gag but not much more after that.
The critics tend to get carried away when judging exceptional and quirky cinematic movies like Andersen's and so reflect that in their marks, a very high 94% approval rating on rottentomatos.com. But what I really don't like about Andersen is using iconic actors in childlike roles and then giving them dry humor to play with. Bruce Willis playing an ironic cop is not that ironic, Wes. As we all know, Americans don't do irony very well. Even Ed Norton in shorts didn't make me laugh as I just saw an actor playing a role, rather than the in-joke Andersen seems to think it is. If Scout Master Randy is indeed that around young boys then I dare you sir! Now that would be brave humor.
For its budget of $16 million it did a useful $66 million back, which is pretty darn good for such an arty movie. Andersen has enough fans for the studio to indulge him and that three year gap gives the fans something to look forward in the hope they all turn out, and general film fans who want to see something different from the stale norm and make up their own mind on whether it was worth it or not. The best way to describe watching Wes Anderson movies is like going out with a stunning girl because she is stunning, rather than because you actually like her. Moonrise Kingdom probably plays well in places like Boston and Austin, big college towns where it's essentially to not do what the crowd does.
Imdb.com - 7.6/10.0 (82,991 votes)
Metacritc.com - 84% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 94% critic's approval rating
Daily Telegraph -'Like many holiday locations, you wouldn't want to live there, but a mini-break from the norm can be a real tonic'.
The Movie People -'Like many holiday locations, you wouldn't want to live there, but a mini-break from the norm can be a real tonic'.
USA Today -'The director's best film since 1998's Rushmore, it has none of the self-conscious smugness of
The Life Aquatic or the empty eccentricity of The Royal Tenenbaums... '
The Guardian -' Anderson's manner becomes a second skin and essential to the script, making Moonrise Kingdom a most comfortable way to watch matters uncomfortable'.
Film4 - 'Another quirky comedy from Wes Anderson who is an acquired taste I have not acquired'.
The Mail on Sunday -'Films that can charm kids and adults in equal measure are rare. This is one of them'.
The New Yorker - 'If you can fully get on Anderson's wavelength you may find this film transportive. I, however, thought it was far too quaint'.
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Being a film director with a signature style can be a difficult thing to maintain, especially throughout an extended career. Adversely, it could be argued that when something works, why change it? Wes Anderson undoubtedly has a signature style; one that is very popular amongst his fans as well. Where it becomes difficult is in alienating people who don't appreciate your style, because if they don't like one of your films then, chances are, they're not going to like any of your others. I happen to be a Wes Anderson fan and, despite a few problems with it (which I will go into later), am in love with his very personal, very unique, completely adorable style of filmmaking. From the first time I saw The Royal Tenenbaums (my first Anderson experience) to his most recent film, before this one, Fantastic Mr. Fox, every single one has been charming, funny, rich in both character and plot, utterly engrossing and altogether enjoyable. I suppose it's a rare thing to have his kind of consistency across nine films (his tenth being currently in the works), but as mentioned before, when you have a signature style that delivers over and over again, why change it? I'm certainly glad that he hasn't.
Scout Master Ward: Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop!
Scout Master Randy Ward (played by the brilliant Edward Norton) has just discovered that one of his Khaki Scouts, namely Sam Shakusky, has 'resigned' from his duties and gone missing. Rallying a search expedition, he brings in the help of Police Captain Sharp, Bruce Willis, who soon discovers that another child, Suzy, has gone missing from her home. When it emerges that the two missing children have been corresponding via letter for months now, it becomes clear that they ran away together and are seeking refuge somewhere on the island of New Penzance. As Sam and Suzy hike through the wilderness, using Sam's scouting skills to set up camp as they go, they fall further and further in love, only serving to make them more determined to stay together. But there are other factors at play here. Sam, unbeknownst to his guardians, is no longer welcome back to the home of his foster family, meaning he must be detained in the custody of Social Services, a great cameo from Tilda Swinton. As a cataclysmic storm approaches the island, can Sam and Suzy elude their superiors and grow up together as they wish? And if not, can they at least convince the adults that their love is real and they should be allowed to see each other as often as they like?
Suzy: I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favourite characters are. I think your lives are more special.
Sam: I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about.
Suzy: I love you, too.
I don't think I'm overstepping any marks when I say that this really is a wonderful, wonderful film. From start to finish, as is the case with so many of Anderson's films, I was thoroughly entranced and completely charmed. Both of the young lead actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward (who play Sam and Suzy respectively), give mesmerising and brave performances - especially considering they were both twelve years old at the time of filming. The chemistry between these children is truly palpable and I defy anyone to not get on board with their plight. In fact, there's not a single member of this brilliant cast that fails, including (very) regular Wes Anderson collaborator Bill Murray and his onscreen wife, Frances McDormand, who play Suzy's somewhat lacklustre parents brilliantly. Of course, with dialogue as strong as Anderson's (with help this time from Roman Coppola), it's easy to attract the people who will deliver it in the best way possible. And, boy, is some of the dialogue beautiful.
Suzy: You can touch my chest. I, uh... I think they're gonna grow more.
There are great lines for everyone here, but Sam and Suzy easily get the cream of the crop, their innocence balanced with a wonderful maturity excused with their individual troubles, which play out as the film develops. It might be too early to say, but I expect to see their relationship on a list of all-time great romances at some point in the future. Not only because they are children, with all the extra wonder and uncertainty that being a child can bring to a love story, but also because it's a genuinely fantastically handled romance, the likes of which come along all too rarely. As the story builds and builds toward its climax, amidst a little over-dramatising and forced tension (it has to be said), you really have no choice but to hold on tight in hope that this doesn't end in tragedy, all-the-while wishing and aching that your childhood had been anything as romantic as this. It's really quite something.
Laura: I'm sorry Walt.
Walt: It's not your fault... Which injuries are you apologising for? Specifically.
Laura: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt: Half of those are self-inflicted.
I mentioned a few problems with Anderson's signature style, which I will mention now. Firstly, his soundtrack choices can be fairly alienating, invasive and altogether distracting. I'm not a fan of the word at all, but many would describe his musical interests as 'hipster' - some might even venture to call it pretentious. While I often end up liking his choice of music, as it tends to fit the mood very well, if I am particularly unfamiliar with it then I will find my attention drifting toward it and away from the images at times. Especially as his soundtrack always seems to be so loud and piercing, which gives you no choice but to notice it. At times, I was even struggling to hear the dialogue underneath it. Along with this, his camera movements tend to be very repetitive and angular. I realise what he's doing with this, making everything seem connected; together. He's creating a sense of 'unreality' that is often wonderfully juxtaposed with the very human emotions that he conveys so well. But again, this can be very distracting, as it certainly was to me. I found myself creating a map of the Bishop household in my mind at one point, which pulled my attention away from the action onscreen.
Sam: Those sons of bitches. They got him right through the neck.
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: Who's to say? But he didn't deserve to die.
Moonrise Kingdom will stay with me for a while. I'll watch it again, soon. When people ask me what was the last really good film I saw, I'll point them towards this one for a while. Not just because it's funny, or charming, or incredibly sweet. Not just because it's brilliantly written, or because the romance at its centre is played out so marvellously. No, not just that. This film has affected me, in a way I couldn't have expected before going into it. It makes you yearn to be young again, not because it was fun to be young or because you had more freedom then. It makes you want to be Sam or Suzy, to see the world as they see it and to fall in love the way they do. To be confident and so sure of the future, just the way they are, and to believe, no matter what, that what you're feeling will last forever. It makes you yearn for all of it to be true. Yes, the film is flawed and, yes, some of those flaws are annoying, but that's barely the point here. The point is to allow yourself to be roped into this wonderful adventure of community and affairs of the heart, but to be ultimately reminded of how much it can hurt to be in love.