Monthly Archives: May 2012

MOONRISE KINGDOM

This is probably my favorite Wes Anderson picture. The immature adults who are usually the focus of his stories finally recede to the background to make room for children trying to be adults. Similarities to Rushmore are superficial since Moonrise Kingdom lacks the meanness of Rushmore’s characters; even most of the adults are altruistic, and the sincerity of Ed Norton’s Scoutmaster is one of the film’s highlights. Style notwithstanding, Moonrise has more in common with Malick’s Badlands than any of Anerson’s previous films.

Edward Norton as Scoutmaster Ward in Moonrise Kingdom

The artifices of craft which characterize Anderson’s films now appear primarily in his subjects. I should have known that Wes Anderson loves Boy Scouting and Noah’s Ark, both of which combine encyclopedic taxonomies with handicrafts on a micro or macro scale. The Chester Cycle mystery play of Noah’s Flood appears as a church production of Benjamin Britten’s operatic setting, providing the avian-costumed romantic interest of the uniformed Scout.

Anderson’s obsessions with craft and catalogues find their most explicit expression in his choice of another Britten composition, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, for the film’s titles. Britten’s dismantling of a theme from Purcell, one family of instruments at a time, makes the artifice of musical composition as transparent as the cross-section of Steve Zissou’s boat, the sequence in The Life Aquatic whose technique of dollhouse exposition is repeated for Moonrise‘s titles.

But while the cross-section of the Belafonte defines The Life Aquatic, the presiding diagram of Moonrise — the map — is incarnated in an omniscient cartographer played by Bob Balaban, who narrates the story’s path and sometimes intervenes in it, and cartography’s acolytes, the orienteering Scouts.

Map of New Penzance in Moonrise Kingdom

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SON OF THE MASK (2005)

Who knew this undistinguished sequel starring Jamie Kennedy (not even a poor man’s Jim Carrey) is actually about Norse god Loki’s attempts to overcome his father Odin’s unfair comparisons of him to Thor? Alan Cumming and Bob Hoskins are prescient lookalikes (but no more) of Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins, so it’s easy to see why this got programmed on TV in the wake of the Avengers’ success.

Unfortunately the only thing going for this attempt at a live-action cartoon is an extended Looney Tunes-inspired sequence in which a Mask-wearing dog and his rival, a superpowered baby, attempt to kill each other with ACME style ruses. (The baby’s father is named Tim Avery though I’m not sure how honored Tex would feel.) This was more fun when Bob Hoskins had both eyeballs in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE

At least 90 minutes of Avengers Assemble is dedicated to large-scale property damage but, unlike Transformers 2, even in the action scenes you can tell exactly what is happening. Directing only his second movie, I was impressed by how well Whedon manages the action choreography, keeping track of both the geography and the characters. A bravura shot in the third act traces the position of all six Avengers — Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye — fighting discrete battles around Manhattan in one seamless movement. This is far from a gratuitous cinematic flourish because it re-establishes precisely where the characters are standing, running, or flying in relation to each other.

This is probably the first superhero movie that actually “felt like a comic book” to me, maybe because I’m  used to reading comic with more than one superhero in them. This is really the first movie in 34 years of sincere superhero films to depict more than one non-mutant hero who are not related by blood (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer notwithstanding). The fact that a minority of the assembled heroes are wearing black leather, instead of all of them, also contributes to its joyfulness, as does the refreshing absence of mutant angst.

In fact Mark Ruffalo, playing the character most justified to exude angst, Bruce Banner, quietly steals the movie with his interpretation of a defeated Dr Jekyll whose hope to eliminate the “other guy” with a cure has finally given way to stoic acceptance of his fragile temperament. He might be Marvel’s best casting decision since Robert Downey Jr. — and they seem to know it as they’ve just signed him to an eight-picture deal (five of which are no doubt reserved for cameos in his colleagues’ sequels). Speaking of Downey, it’s too bad his Stark persona with attendant facial tics has become so familiar because it thrives on being surrounded by so many costumes begging for gentle ridicule. Even Jeremy Renner, conspicuous by the relative absence of his backstory, makes a lot out of the least material.