Monday, September 17, 2012

Summer Movie Roundup I

For a variety of reasons, I did not post any notes on most of the movies I saw over the past three months. But I did want to address at least a few of them here, as it's turned out to be one of the better movie years in memory, at least from my perspective.  The cream of the crop is Wes Anderson's Moonlight Kingdom, which has been widely praised already by both mainstream and alternative critics (I draw the distinction because there's usually a split between the two, with the former overly smitten by commercial prospects and the latter often keyed to some notion of hipster aesthetics).  Personally, I've liked all of Anderson's previous films, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou among my all-time favorites-- though I know the general consensus is that it's the least of Anderson's efforts.  Moonrise Kingdom may pass it in my estimation, though I'd want to see each a couple more times before making that call.  Anyway... Kingdom is the story of Sam and Suzy, twelve-year-old soulmates who run away together to find some idyllic solace from the dispiriting reality of their daily lives.  The story is charming and exciting, filmed with the rhythm and style of a '60s classic of the French New Wave.  But what really puts it over the top for me is the characterizations-- virtually everyone who appears in the film displays a realistic degree of complexity in response to the circumstances of the plot.  To put it another way, they all seem to be figuring things out as they go along, and often muck things up regardless of the good (or bad) intentions that motivate them.  In a cinematic age overburdened with superheroes, that's really refreshing.  To give one example, the scoutmaster played by Edward Norton starts out as a seeming hard-hearted martinet, but when confronted with the information that runaway Sam is an orphan, Norton makes palpable the uncertainty that follows the realization that he is something of a surrogate parent to his charges and not just a higher ranking officer.  Similar kinds of revelations overtake a number of characters, and they revise their actions accordingly (sometimes to humorous effect).  It's  brilliant screenwriting matched with excellent acting, and while much of it might seem highly stylized-- well, what difference does that make if it leads to some deeply felt emotional truths?  Anderson's work reminds me a lot of that of novelist Mark Harris, who also developed a unique way of having his characters talk to one another.  Let me recommend his novels Speed and Something About a Soldier, in both of which you'll find a gentle, idiosyncratically told coming-of-age tale that will remind you of the style and atmosphere of Moonrise Kingdom.      

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