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Monthly Archives: July 2012

It was . . . the Batman!

That’s right, I finally made it out to see The Dark Knight Rises and there was a lot to like about the movie.  It’s probably hard to tell by my general inability to actually get a blog post up on a single comic book movie thus far, but I love me some big screen comic book action and in a general comic book movie sense, The Dark Knight doesn’t disappoint.  There’s plenty of action, lots of explosions, the hero gets knocked down and has to fight his way back to the top; all good comic formula.  The movie is packed with talent and everyone mostly delivers.  Anne Hathaway as “the Cat” is enjoyable and Gary Oldman as the Commissioner haunted by his own lies portrays a certain depth that a lesser actor probably wouldn’t have achieved with this material.  Newcomer to the trilogy is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he’s a fun addition as a smart beat cop who’s also a true believer in Batman.  In all honesty, after seeing Inception a few years back, I made the decision that Gordon-Levitt should be in every movie.  Filmmakers should just work him in there and I’m glad to see that quickly becoming the case.  Who knew the kid from 3rd Rock could throw a punch (or demonstrate a practical application of geometry by ricocheting a bullet off a cement truck to shoot an attacker)?  Unfortunately, as an audience member, one can only feel sorry for poor Michael Cain who was handed about the worst Alfred material of any of the most recent Batman movies.  He chewed scenery like his life depended on it, but there’s not much you can do when you’re handed the nana role in a comic book movie.

The Dark Knight series has always been more of a gritty comic book movie, not flashy and colorful like Iron Man or this summer’s The Avenegers.  It’s true of the Batman comics as well; they were based on some semblance of reality, featuring a real man with no superpowers – just some nifty tools and a lot of training, oh, and money.  As such, the comic books and the Dark Knight trilogy have attempted to buck the comic book conventions, playing Bruce Wayne as dark and moody, the anti-hero.  And there in lies the problem with The Dark Knight; it’s a little too formulaic.  It’s predictable.  When he talks, Bane sounds like Sean Connery gargling marbles and, while he’s physically intimidating, there is just no measuring up to Heath Ledger’s presence as the Joker.  Bane lacks depth – he is not a three-dimensional character – and if you can’t guess the “plot twist” of who his partner is by half way through the movie, you have not been paying attention.  That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t look great and there are a couple of fight scenes that are gritty, but at the same time, a quality of overkill permeates a lot of the movie.  With The Avengers if was clear from the get-go what the audience was going to get, witty banter, a lot of sh*t blowing up, and some good fight scenes.  In short, you expected a lot of flash and not a lot of substance and The Avengers delivered. 

A lot of people want to talk about the capitalist (or anti-capitalist) themes in the movie, the pitting of the have-nots against the haves.  Equally interesting is the hints at tyranny within Gotham itself.  But the reality is, if you buy into that premise, then the movie presents only two options, tyranny or chaos and that is, of a course, a false premise so I’m choosing to wrap both of these themes up in one package; anarchy.  We’re a law and order people; anarchy is not what we are used to and it is not what we want, but both of the last two films in the Dark Knight trilogy feature villains hell-bent on anarchy.  But the substance of the Joker’s anarchy, the unpredictability of his actions, allows him to toy with the Batman in a way no other villain has been able to do and the terror in the streets he creates is so much more palpable.  Maybe it is because you can’t be sure what the Joker’s end game is – chaos for chaos’ sake or is there something more?  But Bane’s version of anarchy has no substance, it is based entirely in destruction, which is spectacular to watch, but won’t hang onto you the way the Joker did.  It won’t work its way into your consciousness or have you puzzling over it hours or even days later.  Of course, that is not a prerequisite of an entertaining flick, but if you’re looking for another The Dark Knight, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to keep on looking.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Oscars 2012 Talk

 

Shut Up And Play The Hits

Shut Up And Play The Hits, the documentary on James Murphy’s retirement of LCD Soundsystem as a band, the accompanying grand finale concert in Madison Square Garden, and Murphy’s dealing with his decision to end his band, played as a one off event Wednesday, and my wife and I joined a theater full of Durham hipsters for the show. And just so we’re assigned the proper number of cool points by the cool point assigners, let it be known that we were, by far, the oldest fogies there. So before the movie started, we patted ourselves on the back for just how cool we really are, and generously gave the scene making kids props for their awesome taste in music. There is hope, after all, for the youngsters of the world.

As for the movie, I’ll start by saying you know you’ve put on a smoking concert when you leave the viewer feeling like there should have been more music. The title of this one was perfect, because while I didn’t necessarily want Murphy to shut up, I did leave wanting to see more music. I’ve read that a version is being put together where it’s 100% the nearly 4 hour, three part concert. That’s a show I’d like to see, albeit maybe in two parts. For this film, selected songs (well selected, for sure) from the show were interspersed with an interview with Murphy, as well as Murphy facing his post LCD life the day after the show.

The show footage was nothing short of a celebration. Murphy was apparently quite involved in the post production editing of the concert footage, and he definitely presented himself and his band in the best possible light. The cameras were placed well, giving us a sense of the scope of the crowd that jammed into MSG to see the show, but still showed what LCD is at heart, a super jamming party band that could show up to play your packed warehouse party and rock it out hard till the sun comes up. It also showed that while Murphy may be the mastermind behind it all, and certainly has the talent to do what he will going forward, this was a tight, tight band made up of an awesome core of musicians. They really seemed to have fun and really got off, in the best way, on simply playing the music. The crowd in the film was exactly what you would hope, 18,000 hardcore fans of something they are really, really into joining together to say thank you. You could argue there were a few too many self-congratulatory shots of sobbing fans at the close of the show, but there is no denying the devotion LCD’s fans showed on the night of the final show. In the end, there’s not a lot to complain about in the concert footage.

The rest of the film was hit or miss. As I mentioned, the concert footage would give way throughout the movie to either clips of Murphy being interviewed, or Murphy going about his business The Day After the final show. In the day after footage, the real star of the show was Murphy’s dog. The dog got more attention than Murphy, which seemingly confirmed Murphy’s hope that he could keep himself at a level of famous that would still allow him a normal life. Either that, or those scenes just showed that New Yorkers yawn at the sight of a guy walking his dog with a bunch of cameras following him.

The interview was conducted by culture commentator, rock writer, and current hipster Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is about half a generation older than most LCD fans, so it’s debatable how much the hard core fans really got out of him being in the movie, but he was obviously there to bolster the cool factor, and even got second billing in the “cast” list after Murphy himself (what about the band?!). As it turns out, the “interview” was a staged recreation of a previous interview Klosterman did with Murphy. Apparently Murphy was happy with that interview and, for whatever reason, Klosterman agreed to recreate the interview for the movie. The “for whatever reason”, I imagine was money. And for Murphy it was a good way to control the message he wanted to get across about why he was ending LCD Soundsystem.

Klosterman is a well-regarded writer and his essays and writing are often perceptive and intelligent takes on pop culture. As an interviewer, though, he makes himself way too much of the show, not so much asking questions as spouting theories and expecting his subjects to explain to him why he’s right. If I’m going to read one of his books, that’s great, I’m reading him because I want to hear what he has to say. But when he’s interviewing someone, like he is here, I want to hear what the interview subject has to say, not why Klosterman thinks Michael Jordan has failed in life away from basketball or his theories on what bands are really remembered for. When Murphy did get a chance to speak, his reasons for disbanding were interesting. My wife and I often use the line “people are complicated”. The point being you can’t stick individuals in pre-conceived theories or boxes, like Klosterman wants to do. Murphy ends up having the confused jumble of thoughts that you would expect a guy to have when he is leaving something because he wants to, on his own terms, but also something that he loves dearly. He’s a guy that in the concert footage clearly has deep feelings for his band, but doesn’t let them speak a word in the documentary. He decides to end LCD because he doesn’t want to become “too famous” and wants to live a normal life on his own terms. But he produces and puts out a documentary concert film that focuses entirely on him.

I think my favorite part of Murphy’s commentary was when he talked about being pretentious. When I was young, pretentious people were any people who didn’t like what I liked. Now that I’m older, I barely even believe in people being pretentious, they’re just sincere people who like things because they like them. Murphy references this in reverse when he says that when he was younger, he’d read certain books or listen to certain bands because he thought it would make him seem cool. But, as he points out, trying to be cool led him to read a lot of really good books and listen to a lot of good music, etc, so it all worked to his favor. He’s interested in what it means to be a “rock star”, isn’t sure he wants everything that goes along with it, and wants to stay in control of as much of his happiness as he can.

The ultimate message in a documentary like this is naturally controlled, so who knows what is the “real” person or not, but taking things on face value, Murphy came across as sincerely conflicted, but ultimately comfortable, with ending LCD. Which seems like a perfectly reasonable state of mind when you’re ending a huge part of your life that you’re ready to move on from, but will always love. In the end, Murphy ended it because he could. It felt like he simply reached the eye opening (for him) conclusion that deciding to end something because you want to and you feel it will make you happier and healthier is all the reason you need. And if you can send it all off with a kick ass party at Madison Square Garden and record it for posterity, all the better.

 

Magic Mike

Before we even get into a review of Magic Mike, let me just go ahead and confirm for all the Curious Georges out there that, at least at the showing I went to with my wife, there was a guy sitting outside the theater to confiscate my man card before I went in. He was hanging out in a lawn chair with a bunch of PBR empties scattered around him, wearing a Led Zeppelin 1975 Tour t shirt and doing that thing where a guy runs his open palm slowly back and forth over the flame of a lighter. “Enjoy the show,” he sneered as I handed him my laminated man membership ID. Then after we sat down, my wife stepped out of the theater for a minute before the show started. Sitting there by myself, I could feel the testosterone evaporating into thin air as groups of women arrived for the show with giant grins on their faces. Some were even a little dressed up. I really thought for a moment that a Pampered Chef party or, better yet, a lingerie/”adult sexual aid” party might break out. Anyway, on with the show.

In all seriousness, I was genuinely surprised that I was one of only two or three guys at our showing. There were a good 40-50 people at our show and they were all ladies, most of them relatively young. I get why they were there, of course, but I thought there might be a few more guys like myself who’d be genuinely interested in what sort of fun Steven Soderbergh would have with this material. The answer, particularly in the first half to two thirds of the movie, is an awful lot of fun. The choreographing of dance scene after dance scene, and just the sheer energy and fun all the guys brought to the show, you couldn’t help get caught up and ride (so to speak) with it. There’s really no way I can say enough about how much fun Matthew McConaughey was as the macho, preening mother hen and boss of the show to all the strippers in the club. Wardrobe choices alone for McConaughey’s character are worth the price of admission, but throw in an over the top, I’ll say and do anything to sell the life this character is leading performance, and this is absolutely, with no hyperbole Best Supporting Actor material. Really, this cock of the walk, no pretense, he’s loving every minute of it performance is right up there with Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia, but without the dark side. There are so many great scenes from McConaughey in Magic Mike, but his character Dallas in a dance studio teaching an up and comer (again, no pun intended) how to tease and work the crowd, complete with hands on instruction, is entertainment at its best. I’ll also be looking for the terry cloth robe McConaughey sports in the middle of the dance club to wear around the house, not to mention the fact that I’m already constantly going up to my wife and saying, “Alright, alright, alright” in my best Texas drawl.

So, yeah, pony up the cash just to see McConaughey. But, again, for at least the first half of the movie, the whole thing is just boatloads of fun. Channing Tatum is really good as the title character, bringing the perfect balance of confidence, fun and roll with it looseness as the heart of the stripping troupe, which includes a nicely balanced cast of guys. The dance sequences were really, really well done and laid out. Tatum, in particular, was sporting some serious game in the dancing department. There was plenty of obvious eye candy for the ladies, but even as a guy you couldn’t help but smile and nod at it all. It’s when the guys are able to just wink at the crowd and really let loose, which is most of the first half of things, that everything really, really cooks and works in this movie. A small slice of genius is placing all of it in Tampa, Florida, which seems like the perfect place for a bunch of slightly white trash-y guys to be partying it up and living the male stripper life.

Things come off the rails just a little bit in the last third of the movie. Naturally, to carry off a story there has to be a little more than just filmed strip routines. And the story is about Tatum as Magic Mike working toward a way to leave stripping, while simultaneously helping out a young protégé and slowly falling for the protégé’s sister. While all the while, McConaughey, the owner of the stripping troupe, promises Mike the moon. There are, as there always are (and necessarily so for story) things that go wrong in the second half of the movie. But these things are handled so sloppily, and the editing of the transitions from fun to seriousness is so clumsy, that it really throws off the pacing of things in the latter sections of things. Soderbergh is kind of known for doing big, intricately developed and paced films and then smaller, tighter ones. Magic Mike has a little bit of an odd feeling of falling somewhere in the middle of that continuum. This is certainly not one of Soderbergh’s sprawling movies and, because of that, it pales quite a bit in the inevitable comparison to a movie like Boogie Nights. I’ll put it as simply as I can. Magic Mike is not in the same class as Boogie Nights. Understanding that it really isn’t meant to be Boogie Nights, I think, in the end, Magic Mike probably would have worked better without trying to overdo some of the more drama heavy plot turns. There’s not really anything horribly wrong with keeping a picture that has such great vibes and pure fun about it for most of the movie light all the way through. There’s just a weird energy change about the film in sections near the end that holds this one back from being really great.

A couple of things that were kind of odd about the movie. The first one I’m taking on advisement. And that is that while there were shots of female breasts, you end up watching a movie about male strippers without having any real full monty shots of the guys. I asked my wife about this and whether it was something that should be brought up and she did not hesitate before saying yes. Again, it just seemed weird. A movie with this kind of action, but no payoff. In fact, we both agreed that while it was a ton of fun in spots, it really wasn’t a particularly sexy movie. I got the impression that the ladies weren’t having any trouble looking at the guys, for sure, but it was definitely missing some heat.

The other slightly off thing was the lack of use of a couple of relatively high profile actors. The biggest one (third no pun intended) was Joe Mangiello from True Blood. I guess when you’re playing a character named Big Dick Richie, it’s not necessarily your elocution that you’re being looked at for, but Mangiello got a couple of lines at most. Just a little odd.

Sitting through the first half of Magic Mike, I really found myself thinking this was the best movie I had seen this year. That’s not necessarily saying a ton because, while I’ve seen a nice chunk of good movies so far, I haven’t seen a truly great one yet. Still, it was promising. But I just couldn’t buy it overall. There was just too much sloppiness and shoddiness story wise in the end of the movie to give it a full pass. Recommended for everything Channing Tatum and even more everything Matthew McConaughey, up to and including McConaughey’s character’s clothes and the art work adorning his home. Recommended for the fun dance scenes, funny enough for a guy to enjoy in a laughing way and eye candy enough that I caught my wife adjusting in her seat a couple of times. So, good summer fun but not rising to that higher level that I think some are touting it for.

I will say I can’t wait for Magic Mike 2: Moon Over Miami, where Mike leaves his not so successful custom furniture business to bring his protégé Alex back from the abyss after Alex succumbs to drugs and an overly hedonistic lifestyle after the strippers make the move with Dallas to Miami. Dallas uses Alex and drives him over the edge and Mike, remembering that Dallas did similar things to him, comes out of stripper retirement to save his woman’s brother and gain a measure of revenge on Dallas by starting his own rival stripper troupe. It’s tough sledding for Mike and Alex but through sheer will and balls (literally), they climb the strip club ladder until they eventually have one final chance to bring down Dallas and his guys in a climactic (are you getting all this pun gold) showdown dance off. I’ll be faxing a treatment to Soderbergh shortly, and you should be looking for this sequel in theaters by Christmas 2014.

 

Bernie

I’m really excited for what the second half of the year promises movie wise, and lately I’ve been warming up for it with a series of movies that have been good, but ultimately flawed. My latest selection, the new Richard Linklater film Bernie, is a movie that will have you laughing out loud and then questioning whether you really should be laughing or not. Think Christopher Guest mockumentary crossed with Errol Morris documentary, but cast with Jack Black, a scenery chewing (in the best way possible) Matthew McConaughey, and a gamely along for the ride Shirley Maclaine, and you pretty much get the picture.

The movie is the true story of funeral home worker and title character Bernie, an all-around good guy that’s always there for the bereaved in the community, always doing little things for others and a guy that is just generally liked and loved in the town he works, small town Carthage, Texas. Bernie ends up taking up with town biddy, widow and tyrant Marjorie Nugent. Marjorie has money but no friends, and she doesn’t even seem to get along with her family. Bernie, though, sees the good in everybody and ends up working for the much older Marjorie as her personal assistant and companion. There are perks, such as trips and money, and Bernie seems made for the job, but Marjorie makes his life a demanding living hell, culminating in Bernie killing her, supposedly out of frustration. He confesses the crime, but the kicker is that everyone loves Bernie so much and hated Marjorie just as much, so the local DA legitimately wonders whether he can get a conviction on a guy who has admitted to a murder.

None of this plot giveaway, by the way, is a spoiler as to whether you’ll like the movie or not. Because the details of the actual story are few and far between. All the characters are little more than sketches and there is little to no depth or exploration as to any real reason why Bernie committed the murder. The story is played as a dark comedy, and the fun comes in the performances. Jack Black as Bernie is wonderfully droll as Bernie, his use of subtle physical comedy and mannerisms spot on in portraying Bernie’s ingratiating personality. But Bernie doesn’t seem ingratiating in an agenda driven way. This guy is simply disarmingly nice, completely sincere, but sort of in his own world. One of the major plot devices is to use local townspeople to tell the story, and they universally loved Bernie and hated Marjorie. Several of them go so far as to insinuate Marjorie probably deserved it. On the other hand, none of them really seemed to know Bernie on a very deep level.

The movie itself doesn’t work on a very deep level. The townspeople, with their East Texas stylings and sayings, get off some laugh out loud lines about the whole situation. And, again, Black plays Bernie with a subtle presence that gets across Bernie’s “I’m here to serve” personality. Matthew McConaughey as the DA out to overcome the town’s love for Bernie and put Bernie away as a murderer is a straight hoot. There’s really no other word for it. McConaughey plays the DA as an over the top, literal big stick carrying, big fish in a small pond. Even though the town wants the DA to “go easy” on poor Bernie, McConaughey treats it all like a cause celebre and preens and performs his way in an attempt to throw the book at Bernie.

Again, there are some truly laugh out loud moments in this film. Jack Black, with almost nothing to work with in terms of character depth, provides a bulk of the laughs with his earnest, sincere portrayal of the super eager to please Bernie. Even the way Black walks in this film is expressive. McConaughey chews scenery as fast as he can talk (a scene with a spinning “wheel of misfortune” is exhibit A of the fun McConaughey is having). And Shirley Maclaine, with the somewhat thankless role of establishing Marjorie as mean enough to feel like Bernie may have been justified in killing her, does her part.

In fact, here is where I start to get torn about this movie overall. In many ways, the less you know about this being a true story the more you’re going to like it. It really is very funny in many places. But this, in the end, is a true story. And you do have to ask yourself, I think, on some level if this is a responsible way to tell the story of a murdered woman. The story is based on a very surface-ly (if that is a word) reported story in Texas Monthly magazine. The movie follows the magazine story almost to a T, and adds almost nothing to it. It’s easy to see where the article could have inspired a movie, what with the saucy townspeople, the juxtaposition of the nice guy killing the mean old lady that everyone hated, and things being escalated so far that many of the town gossips almost seemed to say Marjorie deserved it. But, of course, no one deserves to be killed just because she’s abrasive.

And there had to be more to the story. Marjorie may have been a mean, old biddy but somebody in her family, someone she was friendly with, had to care about her. And you read more about the story, and you find out the juicy detail that Bernie was gay (this is only hinted at in the movie with townspeople’s suspicions and a generally “light in the loafers” persona for Bernie). In real life, several tapes of Bernie having sex with male residents of the town were found. It’s insinuated that Marjorie may have had an onset of dementia, which would have been an incredibly difficult thing for Bernie to have to deal with on his own. And then, of course, there was the money, much of which Bernie was taking for himself and handing out Robin Hood like to citizens in the town.

All to say, the real truth was very, very likely even more fascinating than the surface story told in the movie. It would have taken a lot more effort, to be sure, to uncover more details and work them into the story, but there was likely an even better, much more nuanced tale to be told than the one Linklater chose to tell. In some ways, in fact, Linklater may have done his job almost too well with the way he told the story. I have read several reviews where the reviewer, in all seriousness, says that the effectiveness of Bernie lies in Linklater’s ability to pose the question of whether a community or the law itself should rule in some cases. This is a scary proposition to bring up on any serious level considering the movie tells a very basic tale of a nice guy killing a mean old shrew and a few busy bodies in the town seeming to be happy about it. On the other hand, that Linklater can tell a story this thin so well and Black can put in such an effective performance as to draw that level of sympathy and get people to fall for the bait so easily is a testament to what each of them do in this movie. In the moments you forget it’s a true story, you ride along and chuckle at the absurdity of it all. When you remember it is true, you’re still going to chuckle at it all, but you might feel a little guilty about it. Oh, and Jack Black’s singing in this movie is golden.

 

Prometheus

When it comes to science fiction, I’m not really a fanboy. Sure, I like all the standby’s, like Star Wars, 2001, Close Encounters and Planet of the Apes. I like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, kind of dug the original Solaris and my wife introduced me to the greatness of Blade Runner. But I don’t hang on the latest sci fi releases and, generally, don’t really seek them out as must see movies. This is all to say that, if you are a hard core sci fi geek, my review of Prometheus may or may not do a whole lot for you.

Whew. Now that we have all the disclaimers and excuses for why I might not get it out of the way, let’s get to my take. Overall, Prometheus is a decent little movie, but it’s really two different films in a lot of ways. The first section is a more human take on science vs creationism, science vs corporation profit, science vs the human soul and the quest for knowledge vs do you really wanna know. Or something like that. The second half is a more by the numbers, aliens vs humans, slightly creepy and icky battle for survival. There was a lot of overlap, to be sure, but that’s the basic gist of it.

The first section, the more thoughtful, slowly developing setup section of the film, which asks the old how did we get here, where did we come from and why are we here questions, for me, was the far more successful section. Ironically, the center piece of this success, though, isn’t the human characters, mostly scientists (clouded with the specter of a Corporation) thrown aboard a space ship headed for a distant planet to find out where humans came from, but a robot created by humans named David. Played to a how human is he, is he a good robot or bad robot, why is he really there T by the pitch perfect Michael Fassbender, David is a key co-protagonist of the film and receives not only the best lines but also propels the drama and story forward in crucial ways.

David neatly sums up the crux of the film in a short, but key scene in the first third or so of the movie. Engaged in a conversation with one of the head scientists, Charlie (who is drunk), David asks what the mission is all about. When Charlie says it’s all about finding out where humans began, how we began and, just as importantly, why we were created, David (again, a robot) is perplexed by why humans would want to know why we were created, as opposed to just being satisfied with the where and how. What difference would it make why, David asks. Wanting to know why is part of being human, Charlie says. But when David asks Charlie why humans created David as a robot, Charlie gives a condescending, superior laugh and says, “Because we can.” David lightly smiles back at Charlie and says, “Imagine the disappointment you’d feel if that’s the answer you end up getting.”

For me, this was a too early in the movie peak for Prometheus and created the type of a movie hill to climb for Ridley Scott that is usually not really scale-able. Because, unfortunately, having a film “give us the answer” to the Big Questions is a fool’s errand in most cases. Asking such over- arching, let’s solve the riddles of the universe questions and then trying to actually answer them almost always ends up as a very limiting movie device. How can one definitive answer, presented in a film, possibly live up to all the possibilities the human imagination might come up with to answer this sort of stuff? This isn’t to criticize the effort. There’s something incredibly impressive to me, and even sort of admirable, at taking a shot at it all, and Ridley Scott certainly takes his shot and at least presents in a thoughtful way many of the universal questions we all have about our collective existence. And does it in the middle of a Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Once the spaceship and the crew get to the distant planet they’re looking for and the questions begin to be at least partially answered for us, though, inevitably the payoff is less than satisfying. The story veers off into sci fi clichés like a human/alien impregnation (that is dealt with in a particularly gruesome fashion), characters being killed off in a completely predictable, by the numbers order, beings on the distant planet being expectedly creepy and crawly, and having the action degenerate into a fairly hackneyed version of what you’d expect. It’s not that this part of the movie is really terrible. It’s not, and there are some genuinely suspenseful, edge of your seat moments. It’s just that this part of the movie doesn’t really rise to the lofty levels the first half of the film sets up, and because of that the clichéd nature of some of the second half stands out even more than it might usually. Naturally, the beings from afar don’t exactly have our best interests at heart and that means the humans have to save themselves. The question is, can they save themselves and will we ever get the full answers that we’re looking for?

As far as full answers, the economics of Hollywood being that films like this are never just about stand alone stories, but more about creating a franchise, the ending of Prometheus does do some question answering, but mostly sets up more questions for a potential sequel. The cold, money and corporation focused character brilliantly played by a standout Charlize Theron would have been very happy with this vague ending, and happy at the future payoff the movie studios can expect from the Prometheus mission. As for other aspects of the film, I really thought Scott struck a near perfect balance of creating some truly cool technology and a clean, sleek look for the movie without overdoing it or banging us over the head with it. The biggest weakness of the movie, first pointed out to me by my wife (and completely agreed upon by me) was the absolutely terrible, almost distracting, music. It truly sounds like a ripoff version of a ripoff version of a ripoff version (yes, that cheap and far removed) of a mid-season television episode of the new Star Trek. Really almost can’t emphasize enough how poor it really is.

I also can’t wrap this up without commenting on the Noomi Rapace character, the stand-in in Prometheus for the Sigourney Weaver Alien movies character. Rapace played Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movies, and was just as good in the Swedish movie as Rooney Mara was in the American version of Girl. Rapace’s character in Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw, is the ostensible human core of the movie. She wears a cross and is a believer, but she is also a scientist totally committed to, and even turned on by, scientific discovery. Her character here, to me, is woefully underwritten and Rapace shines more in her physical performance than in any other way. It’s Shaw’s fate juxtaposed with that of the robot David, though, not only in her living or dying but in her internal science vs religion battle that holds the key to a possible sequel. And for that, Rapace deserves credit as much as the story for a performance that is at least effective enough for us to invest something into her character’s (and, by proxy, humanity’s) ultimate fate.

In the end, this is better than average fare, particularly for a movie positioning itself as a summer blockbuster. Not quite rising to the level it seems to be aspiring to doesn’t mean it isn’t better than most of the movies out there. Just that it isn’t a classic, and isn’t quite as good as it possibly could have been. Not a crime, by any means. How about an “A” for effort, something slightly less for execution and focus?

 

 

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is back in the live action business and Moonrise Kingdom fits like a perfect piece in the big picture puzzle of Anderson’s career. Anderson is not so much an acquired taste as he is love at first bite, or spit it out and move on to something else. He’s a movie lover’s director. I don’t know anyone who is really, really into films who doesn’t at least like, if not love, Anderson’s work. And the true measure of Anderson’s talents as a director is that he’s one of the few directors that you would never really compare a work of to another director’s. You can mostly only compare Wes Anderson movies to other Wes Anderson movies and, to me, that is the mark of a true auteur. There’s an old line about professional wrestling that for those who don’t get it, no explanation is good enough; and for those that do get it, no explanation is necessary. I don’t think any line could more aptly describe Anderson fans’ feeling toward his movies. And, yes, I did just compare Wes Anderson movies to professional wrestling.

On the one hand, there’s not really anything surprising about Anderson’s latest, and the point with Anderson is that’s a good thing. His movies are all about nostalgia and whimsy, with a touch of melancholia. All the elements are there in Moonrise Kingdom, as two star crossed, pre- teen lovers lead the boy’s scout troop, the girl’s family, and a beautifully played out of character Bruce Willis on a chase across an island and water as they themselves chase love. The core performances of the lovers, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are touching and focused, and allow the whirlwind of the story to spin around their centered core. Anderson films have often been described as having an almost doll house feel to them, and having a love story centered around two young people the way he does here feels like the perfect palette for Anderson to paint around.

Mostly, the painting is brilliant. In particular, Anderson’s use of classical music and (made up) pre-teen reading lists as the two lovebirds try to escape together lays on the nostalgia. Nobody with a heart will be able to resist thinking back to their own first case of puppy love, and maybe the record you gave to him or her or the books you wanted to read together. And I can’t say enough for the respect Anderson gave to his vision of first love. There were the typical Anderson hijinks surrounding the core of the story, but as always Anderson is not satirizing or mocking anything. He’s telling a fantastical story that hits the audience in a very, very real place. You will rarely root as hard for a happy ending as you do in this film.

One of the side effects of focusing the story so much on the young couple is that the only real fault I could find in the film is that there was a tiny bit too little for some of the adult cast to do. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand were perfectly droll and detached as the girl’s parents, but I would have enjoyed seeing more of them. Not so much, strangely, with Ed Norton’s scout master. Norton would seemingly be a perfect addition to the Anderson ensemble, and while he was fine and certainly didn’t detract from the story, he didn’t quite fit the Anderson mold somehow. He played it just a tiny bit too straight. Tilda Swinton as a character literally named Social Services clearly had a blast, and I can’t completely decide whether her scenery chewing was a blast or a little bit too much.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis in a Wes Anderson film is not going to be one of the first casting choices you think of. Understated and controlled, not necessarily what you think of with Willis. But here Willis, right alongside the performances of the two kids, is the absolute best part, and in many ways the heart, of the movie as the lonely and searching police presence on the island where the story takes place. There are a lot of caricatures in Anderson movies, and they are always there for a reason. But Willis’ character is a living, breathing human adult who helps the kids find each other, and their way home.

If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, there will be very little to complain about with Moonrise Kingdom. My wife went as far as to say it deserved to be part of a trilogy, right alongside Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums, of the best of Wes Anderson. I can’t go quite that far. I think there were little sections of the story that were a touch underdeveloped, and Anderson gave us too little of Murray and McDormand and too much of Norton. But this was a very, very good Wes Anderson flick. There is a long, long way to go this year in movies, and there is an awful lot to look forward to. But of the first half of the year, this is certainly one of the best, and if I were you, I might even stick Bruce Willis in your back pocket for some best supporting love come awards time next year.

 
 
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