Saturday, 1 September 2012

Film Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012)

The tagline of the film reads "A tormenting and surprising story of children and adults during the stormy days of the summer of 1965." Which is what Moonrise Kingdom is all about. This romantic comedy-drama film directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

For this review, I will be delving into the mind of Wes Anderson. Born on May 1st 1969, Anderson is an American filmmaker known for his unusual and distinctive visual and narrative style. For his narratives, Anderson has chosen to direct mostly fast-paced comedies marked by more serious or melancholic elements, with themes often centered on grief, loss of innocence, parental abandonment, adultery, sibling rivalry and unlikely friendships. His movies have been noted for being unusually character-driven, and by turns both derided and praised with terms like "literary geek chic". The plots of his movies often feature thefts and unexpected disappearances, with a tendency to borrow liberally from the caper genre. For visuals, Anderson has been noted for his extensive use of flat space camera moves, obsessively symmetrical compositions, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking shots, a deliberately limited color palette, and hand-made art direction often utilizing miniatures. These stylistic choices give his movies a highly distinctive quality that has provoked much discussion, critical study, supercuts and mash-ups, and even parody. Many writers, critics and even Anderson himself have commented that this gives his movies the feel of being "self-contained worlds", in Anderson's words, or a "scale model household", according Michael Chabon, with "a baroque pop bent that is not realist, surrealist or magic realist", but rather might be described as "fabul[ist]". From The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) on, Anderson has relied more heavily on stop motion animation and miniatures, even making an entire feature with stop motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). And other trademark that Anderson is known for is music. Anderson frequently uses pop music from the 1960s and 70s on the soundtracks of his movies, and one band or musician tends to dominate each soundtrack. In Rushmore (1998), Cat Stevens and British Invasion groups featured prominently, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) included multiple songs recorded by Nico and The Velvet Underground, The Life Aquatic was replete with David Bowie including both originals and covers performed by Seu Jorge, The Kinks appeared on the soundtrack for The Darjeeling Limited (2007)The Beach Boys in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Hank Williams for Moonrise Kingdom. The soundtracks for his movies have often brought renewed attention to the artists featured, most prominently in the case of "These Days", which was used in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack for this film features music by Benjamin Britten, a composer notable for his many works for children's voices. At Cannes, during the post-screening press conference, Anderson said that Britten's music "had a huge effect on the whole movie, I think. The movie's sort of set to it. The play of Noye's Fludde that is performed in it—my older brother and I were actually in a production of that when I was ten or eleven, and that music is something I've always remembered, and made a very strong impression on me. It is the colour of the movie in a way." With many Britten tracks taken from recordings conducted or supervised by the composer himself, the music includes The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Introduction/Theme; Fugue), conducted by Leonard Bernstein; Friday Afternoons (Cuckoo; Old Abram Brown); Simple Symphony (Playful Pizzicato); Noye's Fludde (various excerpts, including the processions of animals into and out of the ark, and The spacious firmament on high); and A Midsummer Night's Dream (On the ground, sleep sound). An original score was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who worked previously with Anderson on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with percussion compositions by frequent Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh. The final credits of the film features a deconstructed rendition of Desplat's original soundtrack in the style of Britten's Young Person's Guide, accompanied by a child's voice to introduce each instrumental section.

The film stars an ensemble cast starring; Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. The film also introduces the debut performances of Jared Gilman, as Sam Shakusky, and Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop. The performances in the film were fantastic, wildly imaginative and intelligently humorous. It was nice to see some old faces again for this film, even though unusual film to include a cast such as this. Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, a troubled, lonely officer struggling to find the two lovers as well as keeping a private affair with Laura Bishop, Suzy's controlling and strict mother, played by Frances McDormand. Edward Norton as the humorous Scout Master Randy Ward, Bill Murray as Walt Bishop, the defective father of Suzy Bishop and the clueless husband of Laura Bishop. Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman (humorously witty as always) as Cousin Ben, Harvey Keitel as Commander Pierce and Bob Balaban as Narrator. But the key performances and some of the film's credit goes to the two young newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. They were both as wild and humorous. I enjoyed watching them both, even though the relationship of the two characters were romantic, making me laugh and puzzled whether intentionally or pointlessly. In the end it's them who makes the biggest impression. Their stylized, rapid-fire delivery, dry wit and cheerful profanity keep the movie bubbling along. Here's to their further collaborations with Anderson.

Typically stylish but deceptively thoughtful, Moonrise Kingdom finds Wes Anderson using ornate visual environments to explore deeply emotional ideas. In a very appealing if outre way, its sensibility and concerns are very much those of an earlier, more elegant era, meaning that the film's deepest intentions will fly far over the heads of most modern filmgoers. The film's shaggy-dog, sort-of-awkward-teen-romance yarn offers laughs and energy that make this Anderson's most fun film since Rushmore. To conclude, I've had my Wes Anderson breakthrough – or maybe it's that he's had his. The film is a marvelous contraption, a wheels-within-wheels thriller that's pure oxygenated movie play.

Simon says Moonrise Kingdom receives:

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