There are Wes Anderson haters, Wes Anderson apologists and then there are those people who are correct in thinking that Anderson was at one time one of the most exciting and unique filmmakers working but these days he seems to be as much of a parody as he is an director. Sadly, his latest “Moonrise Kingdom,” shows he has no interest in proving otherwise. (Please keep in mind this is coming from somebody who willing wrote up a 2200+ word essay on the trailer.) Set in 1965 - though one puzzles to imagine why, since it doesn’t seem any more period specific than his other features - the story concerns two 12 year old’s: Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) who run away to be together on a small island off the coast of New England. The film opens with the camera panning all throughout the Bishop household, laying out a geography that would basically prove to be useless later in the film. The opening of “Panic Room” does the same thing except it does it for the express purpose of establishing the spatial relation of the rooms which becomes important later in the story. This camerawork just wants to draw attention to itself.
After an introduction that establishes all of the major townspeople - Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray) - we’re finally introduced to our young lovers. After a brief flashback (the “What kind of bird are you?” shown in the trailers) the two set off on their adventure. There are fleeting moments that capture the awkwardness of adolescence and infatuation of young love but for the most part those emotions are buried. Anderson has lost his grip on character, story and sadly even humor. The adults are all posturing and the kids do their best line readings delivering dialogue that is neither realistic for that age nor as clever as it had ought to be to justify the stylization. To steal a page from the Red Letter Media critique of the “Star Wars” prequels, it would be difficult to describe the personality of one of the characters in “Moonrise Kingdom” without describing what they look like or what their profession is. They’re all window dressing.
We’re told that Willis’ sheriff is dumb but we’re never shown anything in his character that leads us to this conclusion other than the dialogue. And because the characterizations are so thin, there’s no real catharsis here or scene that packs the emotional punch of Ritchie’s attempted suicide in ‘Tenenbaums’ or Max’s rejection in ‘Rushmore.’ Despite all the stylistic trappings of the earlier films, there was still real emotion there and moments that cut through the arch humor. Anderson proves to be his own worst enemy here, undercutting the intended emotions by not allowing anything to play realistically. And he also indulges some of his worst tendencies: Bob Balaban’s onscreen narrator (no doubt cribbed from some French New Wave film or old TV commercial) is probably the most egregious. Despite the 60s setting Anderson has opted to stay mostly away from the pop music from the era that he’s used in all his other films, opting instead for some classical music and score by Alexandre Desplat that has traces of (a less sinister) “Suspiria.”
Future generations look back at the downward arc of Anderson’s film career and ask, ‘What happened?’ The answer is a simple one: he’s surrounded himself with Yes People, who confirm that everything he’s doing is great and that has allowed him to block out any criticism, even when it may be true or for his own benefit. This unchecked ego led to many of the great filmmakers of the ’70s to start making lesser films as because they started believing their own hype and it has ossified Anderson as a storyteller. Unfortunately as long as his fans continue to support him, it doesn’t look like any kind of wake up call is on the horizon for him. His idea of growing is simply changing the setting of his films (New York, Italy, India, the 60’s). And while you have to admire him for completely ignoring his detractors, one would have hoped that somewhere along the way he would have found his own way to evolve as so many others of his generation did. If it sounds like I’m being harsh, maybe I am. The movie is pleasant, certainly not a chore to get through, but for someone who has invested so much faith in a filmmaker who showed such promise, it’s an incredibly frustrating thing to watch idly.
Well, “The Avengers” is out today which must mean that Summer Movie Season is once again upon us. For the next 3 months multiplexes will be pummeled with all manner of potential blockbusters (with the occasional arthouse counterprogramming). While I’ve also seen a handful of Summer releases which I’d recommend including “The Avengers,” “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” “The Loved Ones" and "Safety Not Guaranteed" there are still plenty of films left to go. Some I couldn’t be less interested in (“Battleship” “Men In Black 3” etc.), some I’m more curious about than anticipating and some I’m really, really looking forward to (see below!) Alright, May to August here we go!
1. The Dark Knight Rises(July 20) Christopher Nolan returns to finish his epic Bat-trilogy. I walked out of “The Dark Knight” thinking it was an impossible act to follow, but 4 years later I’m starting to think that if anyone can do it, Nolan can. Watch the trailer.
2. Prometheus(June 8) This quasi-prequel to “Alien” marks director Ridley Scott’s first foray into sci-fi in 30 years. It looks incredible but can it possibly live up to the trailer?
3. Moonrise Kingdom(May 25) Despite a decade of diminishing returns for the celebrated auteur I remain hopeful that his latest - a 60’s set tale featuring two 12 year old runaways - will mark a return to form. Wes Anderson, I just can’t quit you. Watch the trailer.
4. Brave(June 22) After punishing America last summer with a film whose name I dare not speak, Pixar look ready to apologize to us. I haven’t been blown away by the trailersbut am still hoping that my blind faith in the studio will pay off with another classic.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man(July 3) It may seem too soon to push reset on the “Spider-Man” series but the 3rd entry was a “Batman & Robin”-level disaster that really called for it. Add Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and some unexpected talent behind the camera and I’m definitely curious to see what they do with it. Watch the trailer.
6. ParaNorman(August 17) From the studio that brought you “Coraline” comes another dark and beautiful looking stop-motion tale. This one features a misunderstood boy who can speak to the dead. Watch the trailer, be convinced.
7. Snow White & The Huntsman(June 1) Though I’m not really interested in the whole fairy tale re-imaginings (started by Tim Burton’s odious “Alice In Wonderland”) I have to say I’ve been curious about this one since I saw some visuals last year at Comic-Con. Watch the trailer.
9. Neighborhood Watch(July 27) Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace“‘s Richard Ayoade in a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg scripted, Akiva Schaffer (Lonely Island) directed comedy about suburban dads who defend their neighborhood from aliens. Watch the trailer.
10. The Campaign Will Ferrell v. Zach Galifianakis as rival politicians. (August 10)
If 2011 was any indication, I am going to watch a lot of movies in 2012. And from the looks of it, this year has a potential to be an absolutely incredible year for cinema. It seems like nearly every one of my favorite directors has a film coming out in the next 12 months plus, like every year, there will be the surprises that come out of nowhere and become your new favorites. It’s always fun to look back a year later and wonder what the hell you were thinking putting “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Sucker Punch” on there? (In my defense I did have “Drive” at #11, before most people had ever heard of it, based on the cast alone, and that didn’t turn out too badly.) For now, each of the following films is an A+ until reality proves otherwise. It’s going to be a good year. Here are the films I’m most looking forward to in 2012.
1. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project (a.k.a. The Master) dir: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) It’s been a nearly unendurable wait for my favorite filmmaker to produce a follow-up to his 2007 magnum opus “There Will Be Blood” (a.k.a. The Best Film Of The Decade) and the wait is almost over. Set just after WWII the film will reunite PTA once again with Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader of a Scientology-type religion who takes in a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) to be his right-hand man. It will also probably be the best movie of the year/decade/ever. Four years down, one to go. (Late 2012)
2. The Dark Knight Rises dir: Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins) After blowing minds with “Inception,” Nolan is back for the third and final film in his Bat-trilogy bringing along newcomers Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marion Cotillard. I left the theatre after “The Dark Knight” saying, “That’s probably the best Batman film I’ll see during my lifetime,” thinking that not even Nolan would be able to top it. But nearly four years and one masterwork later, I’m starting to think he might just be able to pull it off. Watch the trailer.(July 20)
3. Django Unchained dir: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction) Tarantino is back with his 5th consecutive revenge film(!), this time bringing retribution to the slavery-era South. Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a freed slave who teams up with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to track down his wife (Kerry Washington) and liberate her from a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). They’ll be joined by Kurt Russell, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Sacha Baron Cohen, RZA, Don Johnson, James Remar, cool music, violence and presumably countless references to other films. (Dec 25)
4. Moonrise Kingdom dir: Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore) Set in the 1960’s, Anderson’s first live action film in nearly five years centers on two pre-teens who fall in love and run away, turning their New England town upside down in the process. Starry cast includes newcomers Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton along with Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. As much as I’ve been disappointed by his last few features, I’m still holding out hope for this one. (May 25)
5. This Is Forty dir: Judd Apatow (Funny People, Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin) Though he’s only directed three features, he’s produced dozens and influenced countless more, making Apatow the king of modern comedy. His last film “Funny People” saw the filmmaker headed into darker, more dramatic territory while his latest is a spinoff of sorts, focusing on Paul Rudd and Lesley Mann’s married couple from “Knocked Up,” presumably dealing with a midlife crisis. They’ll be accompanied by Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks and Megan Fox and hopefully the perfect mix of comedy/drama. (Dec 21)
6. Gravity dir: Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, Great Expectations) Ever since Kubrick went into the beyond with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he influenced a generation of directors do the same. The latest helmer to reach for the stars is Alfonso Cuaron, whose dizzying dystopian “Children of Men” six years ago put him in the upper echelon of filmmakers by fusing smart sci-fi and seamless effects. His latest stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as stranded astronauts attempting to return to Earth and will reportedly be almost entirely CGI, 3D and feature a 20 minute opening shot. From any other filmmaker I’d be terrified, but from Cuaron I’m just excited. (Nov 21)
7. Prometheus dir: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) My second most anticipated sci-fi film next year is one that would’ve been unthinkable even just a few years ago. Scott - who has not done a science fiction film since “Blade Runner” 30 years ago - returns to the genre he helped shape with “Alien” for this quasi-prequel (which may or may not even involve aliens). Regardless, the film concerns a group of explorers - including Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba - who discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth and possibly it’s end. Though the director has had a patchy decade, just try not to be excited when you watch the trailer.(June 8)
8. Frank or Francis dir: Charlie Kaufman (Synechdoche New York, writer Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) Kaufman may be one of the most distinctive screenwriters of the past decade but has been very quiet since stepping into the directors chair in 2008. That film may have stretched the limits of how weird it could get from the idiosyncratic scribe but things may be about to get even weirder. Steve Carell, Jack Black and Nicolas Cage star in some configuration as vain filmmaker, failed comedian and frustrated film critic in this musical (yes, you read that right), comedy. Kaufman’s audacious scripts walk a fine line between brilliant and bewildering but I’m hoping this ends up as the former. (Late 2012)
9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dir: Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Frighteners) After having a rough go of it with “The Lovely Bones,” Jackson returns to Middle Earth to adapt the J.R.R. Tolkien book that started it all. After the ‘LOTR’ trilogy took in nearly 3 billion dollars at the box office and countless awards, you would think adapting the early adventures of Bilbo Baggins would have been a no brainer but it took quite a bit of wrangling both legal and creative on it’s way to the screen. Expectations are sky high for this film (eyerollingly split into twoinstallments) but honestly I was a lot more excited about it before I watched the trailer.(Dec 14)
10. Inside Llewyn Davis dir: The Coen Bros. (No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo) Now in the fourth decade of their careers, the brothers Coen are still going strong and though for me their recent films have been hit-and-miss, that doesn’t make me any less interested in their next project. Set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60’s, the film stars Oscar Isaac as the titular character, a folk singer who can’t seem to get it together. He’s supported by “Drive” co-star Carey Mulligan, F. Murray Abraham longtime Coen MVP John Goodman and (for the ladies) Justin Timberlake. (Late 2012)
1. Moonrise Kingdom dir: Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore) Anderson’s 7th film is set in the 1960’s as 2 twelve year olds fall in love and run away from their New England town. Cast includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and 2 yet-to-be-named pre-teens. As much as I’ve been disappointed by his recent films I’m still hoping he’s got another classic in him. This could be it.
2. The Tree Of Life dir: Terrence Malick (The New World, Days Of Heaven, Badlands) This was in the same spot last year but now we’ve got a trailer and an actual release date. The film features Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as father and son, (in the 1950’s and present day), and will probably be beautiful (as long as it’s not boring.) I’m pretty sure the dinosaurs are out, though.
3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo dir: David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en) Fresh off his Best Picture win for The Social Network, (you know it’s going to happen), Fincher has turned his attention to an adaptation of the first installment in the incredibly popular Millenium Trilogy. I saw the Swedish original and had a hard time picturing anyone turning it into something interesting but if anyone can do it, Fincher can. (Benjamin Button notwithstanding.)
4. Hugo Cabret dir: Martin Scorsese (Kundun, The King Of Comedy, Boxcar Bertha) Martin Scorsese ditches Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time in a decade to adapt this book about an orphan living inside a train station in 1930’s Paris. The film stars “Hit Girl” Chloe Moretz along with Christopher Lee, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jude Law among others and will be filmed entirely in 3D. (Not kidding.)
5. Super 8 dir: JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III) I’m not sure exactly what this is about and I like it that way. I do know it stars Kyle "Coach Taylor" Chandler, Elle Fanning (who was amazing in Somewhere) and appears to evoke an 80’s era Spielberg. JJ Abrams loves "mystery boxes" and next summer I’m going to open one with Super 8 inside. Watch the teaser.
6. Contagion dir: Steven Soderbergh (Che, Traffic, Erin Brockovich) In case anyone thought Soderbergh was taking it easy this year, (after releasing 4 films in 2009), he’s already got 2 films ready to go for 2011. The 2nd of which is Contagion, a CDC centered action-thriller with a huge cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cottiard, Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston, etc. etc. He doesn’t need to retire, he just needs to slow down!
7. Haywire dir: Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!, Solaris, Out Of Sight) That other Soderbergh film, which will be released first, is Haywire. A gritty spy thriller described as “if Alfred Hitchock made a Pam Grier movie”, this one stars mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano backed by another sizeable cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael’s Douglas & Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas. I almost got to see it last month but apparently that was impossible.
8. Submarine dir: Richard Ayoade (TV’s ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’) This one came out of nowhere at the Toronto Film Festival where it got ecstatic reviews and I decided I had to see it as soon as possible. The quote that got me was: “A coming of age story which is equal parts Rushmore, Election and Squid and the Whale.” and if everything works out that will hopefully be in about 4 weeks at Sundance. Please let everything work out.
9. The Descendants dir: Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election) Somehow it’s been almost 7 years since Payne’s last film hit theatres. In that time there’s been a lot of Payne-lite, (The Weather Man, Up In The Air, etc.) but there’s no substitute for the real thing. George Clooney stars as a man trying to reconnect with his 2 daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident. He will probably find himself in painfully awkward/funny humiliating situations.
10. The Skin That I Inhabit dir: Pedro Almodovar (Broken Embraces, Volver, Talk To Her) This one is going to be dark. Antonio Banderas reteams with director Almodovar for the first time in 2 decades starring as a plastic surgeon hunting for the men who raped his daughter. Yikes! But I’m sure it will still have the directors trademark color palette, a beautiful score and a tone that switches from melodrama to comedy and back again. I hope.
11. Drive(Nicolas Winding Refn) Ryan Gosling is a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. From the (insane) director of Bronson and also starring Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston.
12. Hanna(Joe Wright) It looks like a remake of The Professional from the director of Pride & Prejudice. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana. Watch the trailer.
13. Your Highness(David Gordon Green) Unofficial Pineapple Express sequel, set in medieval times, swaps Seth Rogen for Natalie Portman AND Zooey Deschanel. Sounds like an upgrade. (Sorry Seth.) Watch the trailer.
15. Cowboys & Aliens(Jon Favreau) I’m still not sure how much I trust Jon Favreau to direct action, but I do trust Daniel Craig to be a badass. And it would be great for Harrison Ford to have a role that wasn’t terrible. Watch the teaser.
16. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy(Tomas Alfredsen) A Cold War espionage film starring Thomas Hardy, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth would be exciting. But that film directed by the guy who did Let The Right One In is a must-see.
17. This Must Be The Place(Paolo Sorrentino) The insane director of Il Divo brings you Sean Penn, (dressed as Robert Smith from The Cure) stars as an aging rock star who sets out to find his fathers executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal.
18. X-Men: First Class(Matthew Vaughn) I had about zero interest in an X-Men reboot until I saw Kick-Ass and they set the film in the 60’s. Now I have a lot of interest. They even hired January Jones so I keep picturing Mad Men-era X-Men and I can’t not love that.
19. Sucker Punch(Zach Snyder) While it looks way too CGI heavy for my liking, it also looks insane. And once every 2 years I kinda look forward to a Zach Snyder film. Watch the trailer.
20. The Muppets(James Bobin) A brand new Muppets film, from the writers of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the director of Flight Of The Conchords. It might actually work.
Also released: While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach), Young Adult (Jason Reitman), Source Code (Duncan Jones), Beginners (Mike Mills), War Horse (Steven Spielberg), Paul (Greg Mottola), 30 Minutes Or Less (Ruben Fleischer), The Sitter (David Gordon Green), Wanderlust (David Wain), Bridesmaids (Paul Feig), The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips), Twixt Now and Sunrise (Francis Ford Coppola), The Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard), One Day (Lone Scherfig), We Bought A Zoo (Cameron Crowe), The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg), Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird), Cars 2 (John Lassetter), The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry)