Tag: Kingdom of Heaven

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

“It’s been proven by history: all mankind makes mistakes.”

Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom is a movie of variations. It’s no secret; he announces it as such in the opening scene which introduces us to the main characters while a children’s record explains how a composer uses variations of a theme to build a piece of music. Each section of the orchestra has its own version of the them and when they are played together they transform into a majestic and intricate song. That is, essentially, what Anderson does with his characters in the film. They’re all playing slightly different versions of a theme and they mix and match with each other until they come together at the end to become a cohesive whole. Of course, this cohesive whole is about being uncohesive and lonely and finding a way to make that work or come to terms with it. It’s a beautiful film made with Anderson’s typical attention to mood and detail with touches of humor and sadness and, most impressively, both at once.

I wasn’t always a Wes Anderson fan. I saw The Royal Tenenbaums at too young an age to get what was happening in it and I only got five or so minutes into Bottle Rocket before I couldn’t take the quirk any longer and had to turn it off. In the past four or so years I have caught up with every Anderson movie except for The Life Aquatic and, though I only loved one, I became more and more interested in what he was trying to do and say. The trailer for Moonrise Kingdom was fantastic and convinced me to make it my first Anderson in a theater. I’m glad it did. Moonrise Kingdom is, perhaps even more than Fantastic Mr. Fox, the perfect distillation of Anderson’s qualities as a writer and director. The opening shots are those horizontal tracking shots he likes to do so much. Here they make it seem like the characters are living in a young adult fiction book from 1956, the year in which the story is set. This tone carries throughout, as two “troubled” kids run away from their lives and trek across a scenic New England island to find a place all their own. On their trek they fall in love, because what else are treks good for? Meanwhile, the adults on the small island mount a search for them and must come to terms with their own failings as humans. Adultery, inadequacy, and loneliness pervade the adult characters, so it’s no wonder the kids are so screwed up.

Or are they? We keep getting clues that these kids maybe aren’t as screwed up as the adults believe them to be. One, the boy, is an orphan sent off to sleepaway camp for the summer and “not invited to return” to his foster family. This seems more like a failing of the adults to adequately deal with a delicate case than it does a truly “troubled” child. The other, the girl, barely registers as doing anything too far out of the ordinary for a tween. And her home situation, a marriage that is pretty clearly not working, can’t help either. A large part of the film is the kids figuring out that they can be happy with each other, something the adults in their lives haven’t demonstrated at all. That’s not to say that the adults are the bad guys in the film. They are more pitiable figures than despicable ones. The script handles six fully realized characters and does so with remarkable swiftness and care.

Finally, a word on the actors. I am not a fan of Ed Norton. In my estimation he’s been good only twice before (American History X and his uncredited role in Kingdom of Heaven). There is something about Anderson’s dialogue, however, that really lets Norton shine. He plays the sad sack camp counselor of sorts. He doesn’t really have a lot going on, so he throws himself into the position with all of his muster, running the camp like a mini-military base. The tracking shot which introduces us to Norton and his charges is classic Wes Anderson and maybe the first funny thing Norton has ever done. He plays the character with a certain earnestness which is undercut by his loneliness that really works. Bruce Willis is an odd choice for an Anderson movie, but it mostly works. He plays his sheriff role like an older, more settled version of his John McClane character. He, too, is sad and lonely and carrying on an affair with the always wonderful Frances McDormand, the mother of the runaway girl. Which brings us to the kids. They’re the most important element of the film and they do their jobs quite well. I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson kid that acts like an actual kid and that holds true for this film. Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman (Suzy and Sam) perform admirably, developing a fun chemistry and displaying the characteristic awkwardness of new love. They say things that few kids would ever say, but they say them well and it works for the film. Other actors of note include Bill Murray as Suzy’s father (always good) and Jason Schwartzman in a hilarious bit role. Tilda Swinton is good but doesn’t get enough to do, unfortunately.

Moonrise Kingdom is a sad and funny movie of loneliness and human misunderstandings. It’s a beauty of a film, with all of Wes Anderson’s typical technical touches (the slow-mo group walking shot is perfect) intact and a slew of great characters played greatly by great actors. It’s the best movie of the year so far and a virtual lock for my upcoming top 100 list revision.

Movie Review: Prometheus

It’s been a long time since there was an epic space film released in theaters. Avatar three years ago is probably the closest but it had the problem of not being a good film. Everything else in space has been intimate and narrowly focused. We’ve been lacking something large and smart like 2001: A Space Odyssey far too long. Ridley Scott heard our cries and made a movie that’s epic in scope and thematic ambition with the execution to match. Can Prometheus end the arguments about prequels being completely unnecessary now? Scott builds the universe he started with Alien by nearly remaking it with a mostly different focus. Where Alien was about working class people just trying to survive with some psychosexual thematic thrust thrown in for good measure Prometheus asks questions about the creation of life and what it means to be human through the prism of a journey to find our origins. It’s about how science works and what ends one could and should go to for the sake of discovery. It’s about religion and death and scaring the pants off you. It is a great film.

Noomi Rapace and her boyfriend (Logan Marshall-Green) are scientists that think they’ve found an “invitation” from the beings that created life on Earth pointing to a solar system much like ours far away in another galaxy. They go to an Earth-like planet in that solar system looking for these beings to ask them some questions about how and why they made us. It’s the question that drives much of our scientific inquiry, maybe the biggest question of all time with implications that are unknowable. Along for the ride is Charlize Theron as the liaison for the company that is paying for the trip, a company that is familiar to fans of the series. There are some other scientists on board as well, a geologist and biologist and the like. And a robot. Alien movies have to have a robot in them, and much like Aliens, Prometheus doesn’t keep it a secret that Michael Fassbender‘s David (a telling name, of course) is not a real boy. He’s there to talk to the aliens, having learned every language on Earth in hopes of using that bank of knowledge to communicate with them. Idris Elba is the pilot of the ship and represents the guy who’s just there to do his job. His costume underlines this, where everybody else looks quite futuristic, he seems like he would fit in quite well with the crew of the Nostromo in his jeans and a vest designed more for utility than looks.

When they arrive on the planet they see a structure that is certainly not natural and go investigating. Here the parallels to Alien become more apparent. Long hallways that look more organic than built, rooms of containers holding something insidious inside, waiting for an unfortunate soul to wake them. Much like the second season of Game of Thrones, Prometheus takes the text of the original film and tweaks it to its own ends. No scene is an exact replica and that is enough to make it quite different and shocking when something happens. In fact, much of the difference between the two films comes from the motivations of the characters, which is the best way to change a story. The crew isn’t on a salvage mission, they’re there to explore. Rapace is searching the ultimate answers, not just trying to get back to Earth. Fassbender isn’t there to bring an alien back to Earth he’s there to… well, that’d be telling. The mysteries of Prometheus are fun and interesting to consider and, again, they derive from the characters, not some plot necessity. The script is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the latter of which was one of the two primary writers for Lost, a show which thrived because each of the characters was interesting and well drawn so that they could drive the plot instead of the plot driving them. The script asks a lot of questions and answers some of them while leaving others for the audience to ponder after the film. It’s a thinker as well as a thriller and that’s wonderful to see.

Ridley Scott has had a long career of interesting if not perfect films, especially recently with good but flawed films like Kingdom of Heaven and Black Hawk Down. Here he returns to his beginnings (hey, that seems familiar!) and makes a smart, gorgeous, thrilling sci-fi film like Alien and Blade Runner, both of which appear in my top 10 of all time. It isn’t as good a film as either of those two, but I’m comfortable calling it his third best film. He began his career as a production designer and it shows in all of his films. Every world he creates is wholly realized. He reteamed with Alien designer H. R. Giger to design the new elements in Prometheus which ensures that the two films look and feel similar even though Prometheus has a much cleaner look to it, at least at the outset. The best decision Scott made in the direction of this film was to separate it from Alien in terms of scope. I already touched on this in the first paragraph of this review, but Prometheus really feels a lot larger than Alien ever did. We saw some wide shots of the Nostromo and the structure the crew investigates but Alien is mostly a film of interiors and cramped ones at that. This serves the tension of that film perfectly, but for a movie like Prometheus which is about exploration and adventure the scope needed to be grand and Scott accomplishes that perfectly. The ship Prometheus is often filmed from a great distance, showing its relative smallness and focusing more on the landscape of the new planet. The structure the team investigates is so large that some of the expedition crew gets lost within it. And the final setpeice is gigantic. Everything is big, which only fits a movie about where we came from and what it means to live and die.

The film works spectacularly as an exploration epic, but it also attempts to be a human story and that’s the only place where it doesn’t completely work. The Prometheus isn’t a working vessel like the Nostromo, there are some scenes where people talk about their feelings. These scenes aren’t bad or out of place or anything, they just aren’t perfectly integrated into the greater story. There’s a subplot about the two scientists that are leading the journey and their relationship issues which does connect to the grander themes but it just isn’t given enough time to develop as it could. Of the four Ridley Scott films mentioned in the previous paragraph, only one is best in its theatrical cut (Alien) the rest are improved in director’s cuts, so I hope that there are some scenes which can be included on the Blu-ray release which will enhance the interpersonal connections just a bit. It’s not a huge failing of the film, but it keeps it from being a masterpiece, unfortunately. This is a film that makes you think, not feel. That’s fine, but I could have used a bit more feeling, though I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of the thinking.

In fact, the character that is the most interesting in terms of both thinking and feeling is David, the android. Here Scott draws not only upon the other Alien films for inspiration but Blade Runner as well. What makes us human and David un-human? How close can you get to humanity without being human? What happens when you know exactly how and why you were made? These are the questions posed by David’s existence and they are interesting. Michael Fassbender plays David perfectly, he fits right into that uncanny valley that the other androids in the series inhabit. He moves too smoothly, he tries to imitate human speech but it’s too perfect, almost like movie dialogue. His motives can’t be read on his face and he often questions why the humans are acting so human. It’s a remarkable performance, something we’ve come to expect from Fassbender in the past three years. He’s a fantastic talent and constantly impresses.

Finally, a quick word on how to see this movie. First, do it as soon as you can. Right after you read this, if you can manage it. Ambition needs to be rewarded, even more so when it actually reaches the heights it aspires to. Second, this movie actually works quite well in 3D. It was never distracting and it even added to the experience. I saw it at midnight in IMAX 3D and if you can manage that I’d recommend it. It’s a big, loud movie and it really benefits from the biggest screen you can see it on. An epic needs to be large. It’s worth the extra money for an experience like this one. I think I have a new movie to point to whenever I talk about experiences that only movies can provide. Something so grand and thought provoking at the same time. Showing worlds that don’t exist and exploring them thematically and through exciting action. It’s wonderful.

Top 100 Movies: The _0’s

What kind of crazy title is that? A good question. It’s that time of year again. The time to stress over which movies will and will not make the cut when it comes to making the definitive list of movies you really like. But I’ve done it three times before! It’s getting a little boring, right? WRONG! In addition to whatever new movies might end up on the list I’ve devised a clever (stupid) way to present them to you, my adoring public. Instead of giving you them all in one or two or three goes and counting down from 100 to 1 as you would expect, I’ll be giving you the list in groups of ten, based on which digit is in what we in called the “ones spot” in kindergarten. This means that today you’ll get numbers 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10.

Why present them this way, you might ask. First, I’ll refer you to the previous paragraph where I said I was bored. But it’s also a bit of a commentary on the arbitrary nature of this whole excercise. Why not, that’s the real answer. And it’s more suspenseful. Or whatever. Here goes nothing.

100. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Orlando Bloom and Brendan Gleeson

It is a kingdom of conscience, or nothing

Good enough in the Director’s Cut to make this list, this mostly forgotten epic is both big and small. It also contains one of the only good Edward Norton performances in an uncredited role as King Baldwin IV.

90. I’m Not There (2007)

Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale

Yes, it’s chaos, clocks, and watermelons – you know, it’s – it’s everything.

Perhaps a gimmick to show all the “sides” of Bob Dylan as different characters, but it’s done with a crazy electricity that elevates it above criticism towards transcendence.

80. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Directed by Robert Mulligan. Starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham

There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.

One of the best adaptations of one of the best books of all time. Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch and the man every boy wants to grow up to be.

70. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart

There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go through the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.

Sullavan and Stewart are one of the great screen couples of all time and this wonderful Christmastime romance plays to their strengths. Later remade as You’ve Got Mail, AOL ain’t got nothing on good old fashioned mail boxes.

60. The Mortal Storm (1940)

Directed by Frank Borzage. Starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart

I’ve never prized safety, Erich, either for myself or my children. I prized courage.

Famously the movie that made Hitler stop Hollywood films from being shown in Germany, this coincidentally placed film has all the heightened romance and beautiful photography that you expect from a Borzage movie.

50. The Incredibles (2004)

Directed by Brad Bird. Starring Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter

We’re dead! We’re dead! We survived but we’re dead!

Simultaneously one of the better super hero films and one of the best kid’s movies ever. The style is astounding and the score gives everything that 60’s spy sheen.

40. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Directed by Spike Jonze. Starring Max Records and James Gandolfini

Well, look: thsi used to be all rock, and now it’s sand, and then, one day, it’s going to be dust, and then the whole island will be dust and then… well I don’t even know what comes after dust.

A movie about childhood that is more for those remembering it than those experiencing it. Sometimes you make friends and sometimes they hurt you and sometimes you hurt them.

30. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and James Stewart

I know those Law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.

Perhaps the beginning of the revisionist western. But what a swan song! The film starts with John Wayne as the presiding force in town but ends with bookish James Stewart the only one left alive.

20. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

Now, you gotta promise to take good care of these guys. They mean a lot to me.

The end, for now, of the franchise that grew up with me. Though I was out of college by the time Andy was just leaving for it I still empathized completely with his situation. The good news is that there’s always another generation waiting to play with your old toys.

10. The Searchers (1956)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter

From now on, you stay out of this. All of ya. I don’t want you with me. I don’t need ya for what I got to do.

Ok, maybe this is the beginning of the revisionist western. Anyways. It’s about a man whose ways are outdated and must leave the community in order to make it stronger. Sounds like John Ford to me.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section