Saturday, June 30, 2012

New Penzance and the Original Path of the Old Chickchaw Migration

I'm late to being a fan of Wes Anderson's films. I still don't think he's earned the right to try to be dark. The success of Moonrise Kingdom arises out of its bright telling of the classic hero journey.

The compositions in the Bishop family home are brilliant. The dolly tracks are flat and recall the golden age of studio production. (Dolly tracks occur continually throughout Moonrise Kingdom and are similar to each other--always wide lens + same speed + flat background.) The compositions in Moonrise Kingdom are not flat in the sense of being dull; but, this descriptive language seems potentially ineffective or flawed because flat can also be used to describe dull images, which is also subjective, and I cannot say I found a single shot in this movie to be dull. The shots are flat in the sense that objects are usually seen from the frontal perspective, not showing receding lines, or, lines imagined to trail away along the z axis. But, something about the way Anderson's used this technique since The Royal Tennenbaums gives me an impression of showing audiences what's inside his prized toybox. The images are so organinzed, clean, and also like a collection of toys, somehow representative of a chance to use a plastic vehicle to imagine you were somewhere safe and full of creative possibilities like Richard Scarry's Busytown. The opening scene in the house builds a pattern: the dolly tracks, like instruments in an orchesta, are joined by pans. The pans are also brilliant. Then finally there's a crane up. The crane/camera boom up totally reminds me of the one in 7th Heaven (1927, Frank Borzage) and makes me wonder why I can't think of anyone other than David Fincher or Gaspar Noé who indulge so assuredly in floating through walls like Max Ophüls or Stanley Kubrick used to. The command of symmetry and fluid camerawork are all I can think to say, but I wish I could say more about the simplicity's boldness. The art direction is as bold as a box of primary Krayolas. Bob Balaban's a ton of fun as the narrator of the nature films--I wish I could see more of him (not really, but that's my way of saying he's a great character. Maybe I should say I found his brief sketches lively and stylized in the right way, re-creating all of the fun associated with old 60s forgotten innocence illustrations of Norman Rockwell type adventures--the kind that are more fun to look at than actually partake in). And I find the shot reverse shot classically refined because even if it's not the typical repetition between two actors, it's what I'd like to think of as an economy of setups. Anderson to me is like a post card designer--he gets it all in one frame.

The first half of the movie totally sucked me in. I was even caught up wondering about the missing boy myself. That's one of my favorite narrative devices in Moonrise Kingdom: I was thrilled when I realized, "wait, this is a movie, even though everyone is looking for the missing Khaki Scout, I'm in the audience and get to see where he is and what he's up to even though no one else on screen can." Okay that might sound moronic, but I really don't try to predict movies and that was a delight when it hit me.

At forty five minutes, I had to look at my watch.

As I had thought, the midpoint was timed perfectly. In three act structure, the midpoint is said to occur halfway in a screenplay and mark a "point of no return" for the protagonist(s).

So if the first half of the film was all adventure and romace, the second half is the same, but with obstacles. And it worked. Personally, I like movies with unsympathetic heroes like (TV's) Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Down or Mavis in Young Adult (2011, Jason Reitman), and that may be why I never liked Anderson's ensembles until recently. I felt like he used to have flawed characters, but he was just too coy about obviously thinking they had an inner nobility after all. That's like cowardice to me: if you're gonna show some dark side, don't be afraid to make 'em bleed. But Moonrise Kingdom gets away with this because it's about children. There's a scene of violence in the film that Anderson, fittingly for him, refrains from showing the graphic imagery. Like Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, Anderson places a couple of still images of a pair of scissors to replace an offscreen scene where Suzy stabs a boy--in the Kubrick film there's that bludgeoning of the Cat Lady where he inserts the still image of the laughing clown mouth.

I discovered the music of Benjamin Britten watching Beau travail (1999, Claire Denis) where the Billy Budd opera serves as backdrop for Denis's restaging of her own nautical adventure. The Britten tunes in Moonrise Kingdom are similarly regal in their grandeur and give the movie an even greater sense of the drama building like an approaching hurricane.

Usually I don't buy movies that are too obvious about indulging my fantasies. This is an exception to that. Yeah, the weirdo who nobody likes and who does whatever he wants somehow finds true love with a really cool girl and is able to defeat a gang of thugs when he has to and can deal with his problems by running away from them, sure. But, it's a nice placebo to take every once in a while. You know, to feel for a little while like life's really like that.

In closing, I've always found something hilarious about the one movie I can ever remember with a premise involving a boat cop. I've always thought that was ridiculously boring. A boat cop? Seriously? Well that movie was Striking Distance (1993, Rowdy Herrington) and as you know doubt'll remember, starred Bruce Willis. I won't even comment about why I am so crazy about how much I think this is genius, but I do.

Bruce Willis plays a boat cop in Moonrise Kingdom.


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1 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

Didn't hate it, but its sexual politics were atrocious & Anderson's formal gifts tend to burn me out after about an hour of playing "hey look, another rectangle". And the music was okay, but I found it a pointless red herring: if you're going to set up a "here are a bunch of things separated, and here is everything together", then you're going to have to pay it off a lot more strongly than Anderson did here.

Yr point about Willis is very well taken--makes me like the entire thing a little more. I was shocked that Jason "guy from Rushmore" was actually capable of stealing scenes, because, and this may say more about the prim lethargy Anderson likes to pass off as sophistication, he provided several welcome jolts of energy. And Norton was great.

I'm bored of you, Bill Murray. You've done the Bill Murray thing for too long now. We get it: there is a mournful core under the clown face. It's just that the clown face used to be funny. And Frances McDormand was completely wasted in a role defined exclusively by its relation to man/family "obligations". (I owe this observation to Noodles.) Nice job, Anderson/Coppola: way to present some real good pictures of femininity.

9:58 AM  

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