Moonrise Kingdom

It’s not stretching the imagination to any unreasonable degree to proclaim Wes Anderson’s films as an acquired taste. His characters are well-spoken, measured, dry and unflinchingly deadpan. His films put these characters into unconventional situations but present them in a stoic reality. They’re not instantly accessible and can leave you feeling thoroughly patronised if you don’t click with Anderson’s style. The man himself doesn’t always strike gold, but when he does, it’s often very rewarding. After the potentially dodgy task of adapting Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was navigated with charming aplomb, Anderson has assembled another wildly impressive cast for Moonrise Kingdom, and created probably his best picture to date.

Centred around the burgeoning affections between two pre-teens on a small North American island, orphan scout Sam Shakusky and rebellious Suzy Bishop cause a storm when they run off together, forcing everyone from Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) the local Police (consisting solely of Bruce Willis) and even Sam’s local scout master (Edward Norton) and his troop to search for them.

Essentially, the less you know coming in to Moonrise Kingdom, the better. It develops at its own pace, revealing a superb cast of characters and setting. Once you get over the shock of seeing Bruce Willis in such unorthodox territory, his turn as the island’s lone voice of authority is delicately understated (for him, anyway). Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are irresistibly sweet, awkward and direct as Sam and Suzy, and Murray turns in another Bill Murray performance so Bill Murray-esque as to somewhat negate his onscreen wife. Barring a quite surprising yet charming scout-overlord cameo role for Harvey Keitel, Norton steals the show as Randy, Sam’s scout master, however. In a film full of endearing people, Randy is modest, determined and thoroughly committed to leading his young charges. It’s a role that could easily become farcical quite quickly were it not for Norton’s steady but honest delivery.

As with every Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom is very visually rich. The 1960s setting means some striking period dresses for Suzy and tight, short-shorts for every scout on patrol. New Penzance acts as a stunning backdrop, successfully making the setting feel remote, yet never so backward as to do the film a disservice. Musically, Anderson’s choice of Alexandre Desplat is spot on once again, with a fantastic main theme amongst others. Perhaps where the film distances itself from the likes of Anderson’s predecessors The Darjeeling Limited or The Life Aquatic is in its use of children to lead the story. Sam and Suzy face their own difficulties but their actions, reactions and their resolution makes for a much more affecting journey because of their age.

Considering how 2012 has been about huge movies in which a bunch of costumes swoop around broken dystopias, it’s refreshing to consider that a film as delightful as Moonrise Kingdom is one of year’s standout experiences.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

What is it?

Japanese animation film about a schoolgirl who develops the power to travel through time.

Time travel and teenagers, eh?

Yeah, surely a dangerous combination. Makoto’s an energetic, boisterous young girl who, after encountering a mysterious object, discovers she has the ability to freeze and manipulate time. As you can imagine, she uses it to her advantage and gives herself more time to sleep-in each morning, get better scores on her tests and improve her life tenfold. Of course, this isn’t without repercussions, and the film deals with Makoto dealing with the knock-on effects of her time travelling whilst her two best friends, Kōsuke and Chiaki, are kept utterly bamboozled. How can she be so good at catching a baseball every time they play catch? Everything’s just a bit too perfect, and it’s only a matter of time before things start to go awry.

Is it any good?

In other hands, a film delving into deep science fiction conventions with a sharp focus on high school romance could be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, very little gets lost in translation from its original Japanese script and you never really feel out of the loop. The film looks fantastic and is superbly drawn, which helps the predominantly care-free summertime setting feel all the more engaging. It often feels very bright, welcoming and absorbing. Makoto’s means of inducing time travel often involve running, jumping and rolling, which normally ends in her speeding head first in a heap into various pieces of furniture and doors. It’s a good indication of the film’s lighthearted and slightly comic edge, which is wonderfully offset by its darker moments. I won’t spoil anything, but the film pulls out some genuinely intense scenes with Makoto racing against time (ironic, no?) to prevent tragedy.

Any problems?

There aren’t any massive issues that hinder the film too much, but some might find the overly dramatic teenage romance aspect a little bit off-putting. Then again, these are teenagers. Remember hormones? Don’t be fooled, because the film doesn’t get anywhere near the histrionics and cartoony vibe that you’ll find in most anime.This is, for the most part, much more measured, mature and sophisticated.

Final Thoughts:

Great characters, effective if overly long ending, good story that only occasionally baffles and a great setting. Well worth watching.

500 Days Of Summer

You know those rare but incredibly satisfying moments you get when you think you’ve figured something out that most people haven’t? They’re great. Last I had was in the cinema whilst watching 500 Days. It struck me as odd that there was more desire from the male contingent of our group to watch this movie instead of the female (admittedly she was outnumbered three to one), and that wasn’t just because we wanted to lust after Zooey Deschanel for an hour and a half.  The film itself isn’t your standard rom-com affair; its tagline is “Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.” It’s quirky, sharply written, brutally honest, told from the perspective of a romantically intense young man and it’s a thoughtful, sometimes moving experience. It’ll make you think, it’ll make you laugh, it’s definitely romantic and it looks cool. Wait a minute……it’s a romantic comedy for dudes! Awesome.

In all honesty, 500 Days does seem like it’s billed slightly more towards males perhaps a little too in tune with their feelings who fall head over heels with girls who just doesn’t feel the same. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for a greeting card company and falls instantly in love with the new secretary Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). They seem to share similar interests and clearly have a spark. Tom cannot get Summer from his mind, obsessing over her every action and word before the inevitable eventually happens and they get it together in the copy room. Summer doesn’t believe in true love, and as they spend more time together and their relationship develops, she hesitates to ‘label’ what they have, which as we all know is another way of saying she isn’t sure about being with Tom. They remain happy up to a point, but as ever, it really starts getting interesting when things start going wrong.

The plot actually develops brilliantly, going back and forth to different points in the 500 days that Tom and Summer know each other. We see scenes from the beginning of their relationship, the good parts, the bad, the upsetting conclusion and Tom’s reaction to it, but in a random order. It’s not exactly a new cinematic idea, but it’s used to great effect here as we get to see the unflinchingly bad parts of a relationship early on, followed by how Tom and Summer got like that.

As mentioned, 500 Days follows Tom around absolutely, and we never see Summer on her own. As good as Gordon-Levitt is as Tom, presenting his lovelorn state and his huge love for Summer without going too far overboard, it’d be great to see Summer’s reactions to the really bad times instead of just Tom’s. Then again, the relationship between the two of them will hit extremely close to home for a lot of people watching the film, so a chance to view the really difficult parts of a relationship from the perspective of the person more into the other, or the  ‘victim’, if you will, will strike a chord with many people.

500 Days is a damn good movie, extremely honest in its portayal of an exciting relationship hitting the skids and the fallout from it. Deschanel is an evil, beautiful genius of a woman, Gordon-Levitt is a naive, loving man and his reactions to everything that happens to him with Summer are spot on to the point of being stupidly accurate. There are laughs in this film thanks to a small but great supporting cast, and there are as many sad moments to go along with the happy ones, including a stunningly moving scene where Tom’s expectations and contrasting reality are shown side by side in a later meeting with Summer.

It’s not perfect; an annoying, deep voice-over adds nothing to proceedings as almost everything it tells us could be figured out because of how good Tom and Summer portray their feelings. A docummentary style scene and song-and-dance routine after Tom finally gets lucky certainly take away from the rest of the movie. Still, in the same vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science Of Sleep and this year’s Away We Go, 500 Days is another imaginative, honest and jilted take on love with indie quirkiness that you don’t have to feel ashamed to watch. You’ll probably like it more if you’re a hopeless romantic, male or (heaven forbid) both, but anyone with an old story of unrequited love will find something to call their own in 500 Days. Just be prepared to be thinking of your own love story for a good few hours after you’ve watched it.

8/10