The production of Noah’s Flood has been cancelled due to potential flooding – Moonrise Kingdom review

Well, there really is very little not to love about Moonrise Kingdom, the first live action movie from director Wes Anderson in the five long years since Darjeeling Limited. It’s an affecting, sweet love story with charm to spare and it’s all very Andersonian as always. Firstly, it’s really funny, and there are some beautiful images captured on screen, some sweet editing as per usch and also great use of sound, especially in the percussion family. Oh, and a narrator that is a favourite as character and device.

Moonrise Kingdom offers a very endearing view on childhood as a time of adventure and freedom. In our lead characters, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), we have two very unhappy and troubled children. Sam is an orphan, “emotionally disturbed” and unwanted by his foster parents, while Suzy has fits of uncontrollable rage and has her parents baffled as to how to treat her. Together they find sanctuary from their despair by way of love, as one evening during a church production of Noye’s Fludde (or Noah’s Flood) Sam wanders into the girls’ dressing room to find Suzy dressed as a raven and striking like a miniature Lana del Rey, might I add.

They proceed to plot an escape from their respectively unbearable lives by running away together. Hot in pursuit are the khaki scouts from whom Sam has absconded, led by Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward in a winningly boyish and lovable performance and Bruce Willis’ in an impressive,  free-of-flash turn as the quietly tragic policeman Captain Sharp. And also Suzy’s concerned parents played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand, who only realise by nightfall that she’s flown the coop also occupied by three little brothers.

We follow Sam and Suzy at a zippy tempo further and further into the woods and it’s cute to see how the whole situation turns into a scouting exercise, both for the assailants/rescue party (comically, the children themselves seem to be conflicted about this) and for Sam, the finest scout of them all. The picture is grainy and slighty desaturated in autumnal colours giving it a nostalgic feel to match the 1965 setting. And the movie takes on the rhythms of a survival-style documentary, with the children delivering their lines in an unpracticed yet natural style. Gilman and especially Hayward acquit themselves wonderfully.

They finally make it to a beach and declare it their land, a symbolic gesture of making their own way in life away from the constraints imposed by the adults. They even rename it for the occasion. Here they go from friendship to young love, discovering such joys as french kissing and heavy petting. This came as a bit of a surprise for me, but it’s appropriate I guess, it’s a time of exploration both geographically and emotionally/personally. But this doesn’t last. This land they’ve settled is a false paradise. While they hide away in their tent, Suzy’s dad illustrates how flimsy this fantasy of theirs is by simply lifting the tent and leaving them exposed.

The fantasy part of the movie picks up at this point, and at times the movie is very reminiscent of Anderson’s previous stop motion effort, The Fantastic Mr Fox. There’s fantastical explosions, lightning strikes and at one point a daring jump by Edward Norton is shown to be ridiculous as he makes it with considerable ease.

The biggest element of the fantasy though is that we have kids playing at being adult. This serves up some hilarious melodrama and moments of gravity. For example, “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about” or “Was he a good dog? Who’s to say?” or, my favourite, Suzy’s little brother admonishing her with, “You’re a traitor to this family!” And what this is saying is that, for all their wanting to rid themselves of the idiotic adults and be together, they cannot escape becoming adults themselves.

And what waits for them is greater unhappiness. The adults in the movie have little clue of what they’re doing and not only are they unhappy but they also don’t even have love. I wish Bill Murray could’ve had a bigger role in the movie, but he still gets two of the best lines. One: “I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” It was funny in the trailer and still funny in the movie. But it actually underpins a deep sadness of a man who is lost in his marriage, only staying together for the kids without a way of dealing with his anguish. This brings me to the second: “I wish the roof would blow off and I’d be sucked into space.” The adults can’t just run away. That’s just something we try when we’re little. They’re stuck with their misery.

But maybe there is hope to hold on to. The flood comes but life returns to the Earth afterwards and maybe for Sam and Suzy things will be different. We want things for them to be different. A strong theme throughout the movie is of predicting the future and how (unless you’re the narrator) there’s just no way of doing that. And still we are left with the joy and innocence and outright fun of this movie, and that frozen moment in time on the beach.

 

 

Inglourious Basterds – bad spelling, great movie

Django Unchained, the much-anticipated upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie starring Jamie Foxx as a rescued slave out for revenge, will only hit our screens early next year a couple of months after its Christmas Day US release.

And to quell your nervous excited energy until then, may I suggest revisiting his previous film, Inglourious Basterds. It’s possibly his greatest work to date, much of the reason behind the Django-hype and simultaneously a very tough act for Django to follow.

Basterds, if you didn’t already know, tells the WWII story of a gang of all-Jewish soldiers dropped into Nazi-occupied France on a secret mission to kill German soldiers under the command of Brad Pitt’s Lt Aldo Raine. On the surface, the premise is as simple as that and it sounds quite silly. But then this is damn fine entertainment with also a lot more than what meets the eye.

CONTAINS SPOILERS

The movie is grand for manifold factors. But aim a pistol at my nuts and I’d have to say it’s a fine study in tension and doubly great for this unexpected aspect as QT plays against type by downplaying the violence. There’s constantly the promise of cruelty, but until the end we only experience violence, albeit raw and graphic and chilling, in quick jarring bursts. Toward the end of the movie, in fact, the greatest show of violence is first seen in an onscreen film screening of Nation’s Pride, a Nazi movie about the exploits of a celebrated war hero who in staccato fashion mows down the allied enemy. It’s almost as if QT is trying to say something by keeping his trademark one step removed from the audience, until the violence in the Nazi film merges with his own in a ferocious climax.

So that tension I was talking about. Apart from the whole film building up towards the dramatic finish, there are microcosms as the tension is captured in three stand-out scenes.

The first is the opening scene where Colonel Hans Landa visits the home of Frenchman LaPadite who is harbouring Jewish neighbours. The encounter is brimming with suspense as one of the movie’s outright stars, Christoph Waltz, is unveiled. Waltz delights with his borderline psychotic colonel Landa who could at any moment let rip. He gives a performance so commanding, terrifyingly faux congenial yet likeable and endlessly fascinating, that they might as well have carved out ‘OSCAR’ on his forehead. He completely fills the screen when on it and deservedly got the gold statuette from the Academy to prove it. The tension is such that even drinking a glass of milk has something discomfiting about it. And you constantly fear for the vulnerable, outnumbered Frenchman and his beautiful daughters.

One of the Jewish stowaways, Shosanna Dreyfus, manages to escape and later there is a reunion between Landa and herself, delivering the second stand-out scene. This is played brilliantly by Mélanie Laurent and Waltz, as he gives nothing away of what’s going to transpire and she only hints at her anxiety by obliquely tensing up. Only at the very end does her cool facade break down completely after a rare moment of forgetfulness on Landa’s part, filling you with deep compassion for her character.

Before I get to the last scene, let me just also say this. QT gets terrific performances from his actors and can save or create careers. Case in point – John Travolta, shortlived, but still. And Basterds is no different. Apart from Waltz, there is a fantastic international cast with Laurent, Daniel Brühl and Diane Kruger all doing sterling work. But alongside Waltz, the true showpony is Brad Pitt. His Aldo Raine is Pitt like you’ve never seen him before in what has to be my favourite role for him ever. He plays it with a boyish charm and also embodies the film’s overall relish and glee, hamming it up just enough with his drawl, his smirk and his little homespun sayings to be the movie’s centre of fun.

‘Bonjourno.’

The last outstanding scene, and the best, occurs in a basement tavern where a secret meeting has been set up between the Basterds and their mole, Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Kruger. This scene just has it all. They’re already a little uneasy about it all feeling ripe for ambush, when the three Basterds descend the steps in Nazi uniform to be saluted over-zealously by the German soldiers they find below. The waitress drops the tray, there’s a clattering and breaking of glasses, and we cut to the Basterds paused awkwardly on the steps, startled by this greeting.

But they push on and join von Hammersmark where they start discussing details for their grand plan, Operation Kino, until a drunken soldier, Wilhelm, has the impudence to make a nuisance of himself around supposedly superior officers. As Michael Fassbender’s British Lieutenant reprimands him in German (obviously), the stunned soldier stares back vacantly and then starts commenting on his peculiar accent. The jig is up! Fassbender’s colleagues quickly step in to dispose of Wilhelm with aggressive threats to all his friends to keep an eye on him. Crisis averted? Maybe, but then all of a sudden a hereto unseen Nazi soldier is revealed to be sitting in the corner. It’s almost laughable how the scene keeps escalating with this latest trump card played by the director. As the record player scratches with the music finished, like the fun has run out, the major (played to lingering perfection by August Diehl) approaches and starts interrogating Fassbender’s Hicox. And after barely accepting his explanation, he decides to join them for a game of Celebrity, where they place cards on their foreheads and have to guess the famous figure’s name written on it. It’s all Diehl here as he proceeds to guess his figure, King Kong, with a majestic, controlled display of acting. The scene simmers throughout and shortly after a drink of whisky and a brief standoff it finally explodes in one brisk elimination of almost everyone involved. Damn good stuff.

Anyway… it’s a propagandistic movie about propaganda, about how the propaganda pictures of the Nazis were at the forefront of the war effort and how ultimately the movies could’ve been used to end the war. It’s a celebration of what’s possible with the movies, as QT’s own escapist plot of killing Hitler illustrates, but it’s also a condemnation of how movies can distort reality and affect people. Therefore QT also plays on the idea of the Western genre having demonised Native Americans and includes King Kong to show how cinema romanticised slavery. Significantly, Aldo Raine is part Apache and the crushing blow to the Nazis in a way, the spark that lights the fuse, is dealt by a black projectionist during a film screening. There’s also a chronic preoccupation with nicknames mixed in, of how one is perceived and how legends are built up.

And finally: language, language, language. This film flits between German, English and French and even some Italian like it’s nobody’s business. Apart from loving it for its linguistic richness, which is beautiful in and of itself but also lends authenticity, language is cleverly used as a plot device. QT shows he isn’t just trying to be arty for the hell of it. Inglourious Basterds is a deep hard look at the influence of art and culture on us all. And it’s great storytelling, with the music also deserving a special mention, and ample fun. We should let this movie move us and be very thankful for that. Good luck, Django.

The Five-Year Engagement… but I can’t forget Sarah Marshall

The Five-Year Engagement sees director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel teaming up for the second time after the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And subconsciously I found myself making comparisons all the way through. It’s almost impossible not to, as again Segel is in a similar doting romantic mode, with generous helpings of his naked ass thrown in too.

It has Sarah Marshall’s spirit, but this sophomore collaboration feels more grown-up. Where Sarah Marshall was about a relationship falling apart and moving on, Engagement looks at what it takes, the stupid things that are done, to keep two people together. After the movie starts with Tom proposing to Violet, played by Emily Blunt, we see him make a huge sacrifice by giving up his career as a chef and following Violet to the University of Michigan to let her go after her dreams. And you can just hear the patrons of the cinema talking among themselves… “she’s so selfish… i know!” But seriously, she’s pretty bitchy about the whole thing.

In Michigan there are no fancy restaurants and instead Tom loses his way professionally in a sandwich shop where he remains unchallenged and unfulfilled. Where Peter in Sarah Marshall was going nowhere, Segel revisits that man-child state that he’s so fascinated with, only this time Tom regresses due to being deeply unhappy.  And oh does he waste away spectacularly. He eventually resigns himself completely to the Michigan country way of life to great comedic effect. This transformation into a bearded, large poncho-sweater wearing outdoorsman is probably the highlight of the film.

Segel’s once again surrounded himself with great comedy actors everywhere you look. Forming part of his Michigan tribe are Brian Posehn as Tarquin and the scene-stealing Chris Parnell as stay-at-home dad who knits, Bill. Emily Blunt meanwhile has Mindy Kalling, Kevin Hart and Randall Park as university colleagues. Rhys Ifans never dissapoints either.

Then there’s great support from Chris Pratt, who proves to be very funny as best friend Alex and, minus her questionable British accent, forms a great partnership with Alison Brie’s Suzie as the pair who effortlessly and unintentionally achieve what the lead characters are having such a hard time with.

As for the leads, Segel is great – dry and subtle, but also able to go large when he needs to – but I have a real problem with Emily Blunt. She’s fine, but I just can’t get over the fact that she has progressed so much higher than her station which really ought to be solid supporting roles like the one of Emily in The Devil Wears Prada which she’s famous for. I don’t always believe in the relationship, at least not when it’s going well, no matter how hard they try to convince you with their meet scene at a New Year’s party. Segel has joked in the past that he has tricked everyone by making them believe he has any talent, but I think it’s in fact Ms Blunt who has done exactly that.

But despite my personal issues with Emily Blunt, she didn’t ruin the picture. And her character is just idiotic enough to make my feelings toward her work out for the best. Pacing is another issue, as it does feel rather long and threatens to almost take the five years in the title literally. But there can be no rush to let the situation develop, that’s understandable, and along the way there’s some great humour, set-pieces and finely observed stuff in there. And many grandparents passing away, just to temper it all and position it toward the serious and real. The deaths also serve to create nice urgency and also allude to the decay and deterioration of their relationship.

It’s a nice script that does well on screen with several great elements just missing out on coming together seamlessly and forming a whole of true quality like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s every bit as enjoyable though with a pleasing, neat ending that’ll still have you believing in love, just love of a more rational hue.