POSTED ON JUNE 27, 2012:
Three tales of freedom
For a Texan, writer/director Wes Anderson does '60s-era East Coast blue-bloods and the introverted brilliance of their privileged children rather well. 1998's Rushmore put him on the map with Gen X'ers who didn't care about populist, art house cinema -- thank you Bill Murray. Anderson loves his grudging acknowledgement of the necessity of unwarranted authority (be it familial or institutional); affectionately explored through the lens of advantaged eccentrics, assholes and the deadpan, confused brethren that orbit them.
But Anderson, with his aptness for a great cast, eclectic co-writers (Owen Wilson, Roman Coppola and Noah Baumbach among them) and predilection for literally hand-crafted cinema has come to enjoy a pleasingly quasi-mainstream status that almost gives me hope for the cultural DMZ that divides commerce and art.
Or maybe I'm just stoked because Moonrise Kingdom -- like all of Anderson's films, ostensibly a comedy though the laughs are more knowing than raucous -- is the most effortlessly executed and unconventionally charming film he has ever made.
Window Watcher. Young love proved to be a hard spot in the Moonrise Kingdom.
It's 1965, as a warmly welcome Bob Balaban (Altered States) informs us, and the location is Summer's End, a lighthouse abode on an idyllic New England island -- three days before a historically destructive hurricane -- and the vacation spot of Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Walt and Laura are lawyers, and clearly imprisoned by their gilded, boring existence. Their 12-year old daughter Suzy (Kara Hayward) is troublingly introverted, distant and weirdly attached to a pair of binoculars with which she's on the lookout from the top of the lighthouse.
She's looking for Sam (Jared Gilman), a misunderstood foster child who's camping on the island at Camp Ivanhoe, under the watchful eye of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton); who is completely perplexed to find that Sam -- who is hated by his fellow scouts -- has literally tunneled out of his tent as if it were a penitentiary cell. Of course, the authorities--parental, municipal, Federal, Scout and Bruce Willis -- go after Suzy and Sam as if they just robbed a bank, never considering that Sam's escape might be to a long planned, personal and private rendezvous.
Wes Anderson (with Roman Coppola co-scripting) has made his most accomplished film with Moonrise Kingdom; his vision of love and innocence colliding with unkind reality meld with his painterly visual style and distinct compositions. In the beginning, the way Anderson moves his camera recalls a bailiff walking rows of cells. By the end, his framing (under the gorgeous cinematography of Robert Yeoman) is like a fantasy; darkened forests and rain-soaked boat rowers traversing a sea -- with Ward on a Campellian, hero's journey -- to find a fortress full of clannish Boy Scouts led by Harvey Keitel. It's brilliant, organic and genuine (and a little daring: Suzy is essentially deflowered with beetle earrings made from fish hooks) that will stick in the memory long after the credits roll.
If movies are dreams, Moonrise Kingdom is one you won't like waking up from.
Only a quarter of women can consistently have orgasms during sex with a dude with just his penis. I didn't even realize that until a couple of months ago, and I have spent most of my adult life being acutely aware of the importance of the clitoris. Stupid, pre-Kinseian men had an excuse because of sexist ignorance and mostly not really giving a shit about being good in bed, but this is 2012. I'm not sure what my excuse is.
Hysteria, an oddly anachronistic and fairly hilarious Victorian-era rom-com about the invention of the vibrator, excels in its mirthful tone by playing on preconceptions that lasted until 50 years ago (i.e. women aren't meant to enjoy a good boning) while suffering slightly from some obvious, if true, parallels to the techno-sexual culture of the here and now.
Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy, in full-on stage mode) is a doctor in 1880 London who keeps getting fired because he believes in not killing his patients. On the hunt for a new gig he gets an interview with Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a phrenologist with a successful practice, who has determined that "hysteria" is an epidemic among nervous, pissed off, crampy women; one that he believes can be alleviated by what amounts to unwittingly rubbing out their long-suffering lady boners. Granted, he hasn't actually made the connection that subjugated women might just be too cloistered by their patriarchal husbands--and society--to get turned on or even think about getting themselves off. But ignorance is not bliss for some, and lucrative for others.
Granville gets the job, and finds himself masturbating resentful, frigid, upper-crust women, while catching the eye of his boss's daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones) a cultured, gorgeous wallflower who seems perfect for Granville. But then he meets her elder sister, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a fiery activist for the destitute (read: ardent feminist, socialist and community organizer); whose verve speaks endearingly to Granville's own Hippocratic convictions.
Fortunately, Granville's rich, nerdy friend Lord St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett, just killing) has been inventing a hand-held, motorized fan that winds up having some really unforeseen applications.
Hysteria is pretty hilarious if uneven in tone, weirdly miraculous considering the platoon of writers behind the screenplay. Director Tanya Wexler (Finding North), aptly elicits lightheartedness from her cast that elevates with the feather-lite, though charmingly written narrative -- one that finds Gyllenhaal's Charlotte as an 1880's Saul Alisnsky to Dancy's idealistic, if milquetoast Granville -- joining forces to open the first salvo in the war for sexual equality (on a couple of levels).
Dancy and Gyllenhaal are overly animated and on point but are still charismatic enough within the tight, smart and charming writing. Jonathan Pryce gets a chance to be intentionally funny, which is rare. Rupert Everett doesn't get enough screen time -- he steals every scene -- though the periphery is filled with funny actors and delightful moments. Despite the tonal unevenness, director Wexler knows how to cull humorous and jovial performances in a well-produced period film. One whose appeal finds its culturally old-fashioned lessons about stupid white men organically combined with the apparently true, utterly contemporary tale of how the vibrator is now the most popular sex toy on Earth. What's not to like that happy ending?
So as bad as shit was for women in the Victorian Era, it was even less of a question in 10th Century Scotland. That's where we find Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) in Pixar's gorgeously animated, narratively lightweight, Brave.
Merida is the daughter of the permissive Bear Slayer King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and his traditionalist Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The red-headed bow hunter has no interest in getting married off to one of the first-born of three competing, rival clans in order to bring peace amongst them.
Elinor is adamant that Merida follow tradition. So the recalcitrant girl rides away on her trusty steed, led by willow wisps to discover the cottage of a woodland sorceress (Julie Walters). Merida cajoles the witch into giving her a spell that will "change" her mother's mind, not taking into account that specificity is important when making a deal with a (really non-threatening) devil.
Fashionable Feelings. The Victorian-en comedy Hysteria inspires some encounters between co-stars Maggie Gyllenhall and Hugh Danney
But when the Queen turns into a bear, a condition that will become permanent after two days, Merida must find a way to reverse the spell and unify the clans without marrying some haggis-eating, inbred douchebag. Or pissing off her dad.
And that's the problem. Brave's plot feels light and somewhat contrived and clichéd, even dull, for the first half and relies too much on cutesy tropes that squander the darkly supernatural possibilities of its period setting. It only flirts with the ruthlessness and paganism that should define Merida's world, though when it does it tugs at the heartstrings of any former kid who spent hours reading about Celts, Normans and Picts, gleefully absorbing their woodcut iconographies, Stonehenge-like monuments and prehistoric -- enigmatically supernatural -- tales of blood and conquest. It's nice that Pixar went this route; it's as unique a setting and story as you could ask of them. Its look is stunning and its art design is as visually peerless and densely detailed as anything Pixar has ever done -- Merida's hair must have required a new algorithm.
But, as cool as it looks, and sometimes is, Brave still feels like a misspent opportunity to tell a story that's as distinctive as the world it so beautifully renders.
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