Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

The film has a strong ensemble cast. The two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward carry the film just fine. I believed their romance, connected with their loneliness and rooted for them. It’s been a while since Bruce Willis played a character. In America they call it character acting; the rest of the world just calls it acting. Don’t ask me why. But it was refreshing to see Willis play someone who functions at a lower volume compared to his larger-than-life tough guy action roles. It was also nice to see Edward Norton doing comedy and playing a klutzier character as well.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Moonrise Kingdom was its storybook aesthetic, which acts as the engine pumping a vibrant energy through the story. To list a few examples, the story is set in an enclosed world. A narrator delivers story information straight to the camera in a vocal tone that sounds like he’s instructing a child on how to use a toaster. The cinematography, with its camera movements, deliberately flattens the framing, subtly embodying the two-dimensional quality of a children’s storybook panel.

I liked the world that was created in the film. It was believable and at the same time contained a fairy-tale-like quality and a sense of wonder. As the two lead characters were trying to escape their home like a cartoon character trying to run out of the edges of a page, I could not have imagined what the outside world would have looked like. The world was just that well established. For example, product placement would have completely shattered the illusion of the world. Not that I was specifically looking for it, but I’m glad I do not recall any in the film.

There is a real sense of a community that’s attached to this place and I like that even the smaller characters all contribute to the action of the story rather than acting as mere background decoration. And for that, the characters earn their quirks.

The only other Wes Anderson work I have seen was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. So I maybe unqualified to say this, but Moonrise Kingdom is probably the most accessible Wes Anderson film. The film is rated PG-13, but I do believe that the film will play well to children (from 9-10 onwards, it does have a few dark moments), particularly as a way to reach children who have been orphaned or have experienced a broken family. It feels as though Wes Anderson made this movie for them.

I was entranced, laughed and it put me in a fuzzy warm mood by the end. Moonrise Kingdom proves how simple stories can still be powerful and it does not take complex story structures to engage and move an audience. 

Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols

A man gets intense apocalyptic nightmares. He hides this from his family and begins to build a shelter, but this begins to strain his relationship with his family and the community.Is he just plain crazy or is there something bad on the horizon?

Michael Shannon gives a subtle layered performance as Curtis LaForche. He communicates the difficulty of having an unexplainable problem. He feels something bad is about to happen. It’s nothing concrete but something about the world doesn’t seem right. He loves his wife, but doesn’t want to worry her. He communicates all this with his face.

Jessica Chastain is a believable onscreen wife and mother. A lot of cinematic mothers tend to be unconvincing and this is noteworthy. Most cinematic wives have too much makeup on, do not carry enough worry in their eyes and most importantly they perform without a familiarity  of their own spaces. When Jessica Chastain does household chores or embraces her own child, she does it with a muscle memory as if she performs these tasks daily. When Curtis and Samantha argue, it is a very realistic portray of how a married couple fights. This added a lot of believability to the story, especially when the central husband and wife relationship comes into strain. Actually yeah, I’d like a wife like Jessica Chastain in this movie.

You know how when you continually look at leaves being tossed in the wind or waves crashing upon a beach, you start to space out and ponder about the workings of the universe? The film’s cinematography captures that feeling exactly in scenes where Curtis looks at his environment around him with suspicion. In Take Shelter, nature is an uncertain place. Underlying beneath it’s beauty is something bigger behind that’s going on that we are unaware of. To say it’s beautiful cinematography is almost missing the point, it’s definitely the deepest, most communicative cinematography I have seen this year.

This is Jeff Nichols’ second film. He has mastered the art of slow-boiled tension, which is a storytelling technique that is on the brink of extinction in an age where the short-attention gene is on the rise. I also love how the story moves forward and how fresh story points are revealed. There’s not much Basil Exposition, they just jump right into it and at times the audiences is set to figure out the context. David Wingo’s soundtrack is ambiguous and embodies a creeping sensation of foreboding. And along with the story, this ambiguity uneases the audience. After all, do we want Curtis to be crazy and committed to an asylum? Or do we want to see something big bad happen?

The story has a strong grasp of how the audience feels about the story in any given moment. It knows when to slow down and does so, particularly in the shelter sequence where Samantha and Curtis discuss whether to exit the shelter. You want and dread the conclusion at the same time. The ending is truly something. It’s an glorious epic finale.

And I have to say, I was very pleased to be manipulated this way.

Warrior by Gavin O’Connor

Warrior (2011 film)

Warrior by Gavin O’Connor

I have a confession to make: I love martial arts. I love martial arts movies. There’s nothing more primal than watching two people beating the shit out of each other. Warrior is a movie that understands this but earns that fun legitimately through the three lead performances. It works on these two levels.

Joel Edgerton brings genuine goodness to the film. His character Brendan Conlon is formerly-failed MMA fighter turned school teacher, the bank is taking his house and now he is fighting in the cage to keep his family together. And through being motivated by family, he becomes a better fighter. You root for him. You want him to win.

I’ve never seen Nick Nolte so raw and completely naked playing this broken old man trying to repair his regrets. The Nick Nolte-isms do not shortcut him. He’s earned that Oscar nomination, though I don’t think he’ll win this year.

Here’s why I think Tom Hardy is a great actor: he acts with his entire body. No, I’m not talking about his deltoids (though “Tom Hardy’s deltoids” completely earn another independent credit in this movie). It’s an fine-tuned, equally internal and external performance. Notice the way he grunts, the weight in his walk, how he speaks under his breath and the way he glares his eyes like he’s going to lose it any second. He’s not even human in this movie. He is a mythic beast. Let’s just say, the bat will be broken.

The fights themselves are exciting to watch because of four aesthetic reasons, 1) The drama works. We care. 2) The actors are doing it. The camera doesn’t do anything to hide a stuntman. 3) The fights happen in film time, not real time. They’re editing on dramatic beats. They’re not sticking to how real MMA fights play out, which most of the time is people hugging each other on the ground. (If you’ve seen Never Back Down, you know what I’m talking about.) They’re presented in a realistic fashion with the boring parts omitted. 4) You feel the pain of these fights. On a side note, I also enjoyed the dual training montage sequence. They’re acknowledging the origin of the DNA strain (uh.. Rocky, anybody?) and trying to evolve it into something of their own. I appreciated that.

This was probably the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this year. I have a soft spot for it.

That said, I’m a little jealous that Joel Edgerton pulled off a flying armbar. That took me months!