The Reel Deal
MOONRISE KINGDOM, THE DICTATOR, & BATTLESHIP
Quick Takes on Three Films
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
Moonrise Kingdom, the latest from American auteur Wes Anderson, will be greeted with cheers and boos, excitement and annoyance, as is the byproduct of having become a name-brand in filmmaking. Many people have likely decided what they’ll think about the film before ever even stepping into the dim lights of their local theater–and they’re probably correct in their assessment (whatever it may be). If you love Anderson, you’ll likely love this movie, and if you don’t, you won’t. But, to the haters, I must address the following: it’s easy to say, as many Anderson critics do, that he makes the same movie over and over–like Will Farrell, changing the set-ups and the settings, while keeping much of everything else in tact from film to film (even the same font!–which, sidenote, he actually did finally get rid of for this one). It’s also easy to call his films overly precious, overly quirky, overly hip, overly stylized–and these critiques have the benefit of not being entirely off-base, but they are also much too facile for a filmmaker who’s anything but.
I’ve had the shock of noticing that the people who claim Anderson’s films are overly this or overly that are the same faux-Goldilockses who settle on something like Alexander Payne’s painfully mediocre The Descendants as “just right.” No thank you, baby bear, I’ll take my chances with the Anderson porridge–even if his last few films, while still always enjoyable on some level, have admittedly left me wanting. I never knew what exactly I wanted from Anderson, I just knew I wanted something more. But now I can tell you exactly what I wanted: without knowing it or being able to articulate it at the time, I wanted Moonrise Kingdom. It’s his best and most coherent film since at least The Royal Tenenbaums, and possibly even Rushmore. It tells the story of two troubled souls, two outsiders, two star-crossed lovers–Romeo and Juliet without the warring families (in fact, here our would-be Romeo, Sam Shakusky, doesn’t even really have a family)–who happen to also be preteen runaways. These twelve-year-old lovebirds run off on a romantic adventure, and certain members of their New England island town set out to find them. The ensemble cast is filled with some performers who haven’t given performances this good in years (Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and Frances McDormand) and with others who seem to never disappoint (Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray), but surprisingly, amongst all that acting talent, the stand-out performances come from the two kids that play the leads: unknowns Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman.
Of course, it isn’t just acting that makes a great movie–it takes a phenomenal script and impeccable direction (and Anderson, with the help of writing partner Roman Coppola, delivers these). The best explanation I can give of this film’s genius is to compare it to what I think is Jean-Luc Godard’s best film, Pierrot Le Fou. Pierrot was made at a pivotal moment in Godard’s career; it acted as an encapsulation of his first nine films, and a hint at what would follow (not just for the rest of his so-called “cinematic period,” but also for the even more avant-garde and political experiments that followed). If you want to get at all that is Godard in one film, it’s the one I recommend. I would say the same for Moonrise Kingdom in relation to Anderson’s career. Is it his best? I have a hard time letting it topple Rushmore from that coveted spot at the top of the hill, but who knows what I’ll think in five years time (with some distance, after multiple viewings, and upon further reflection)? It’s not all that improbable that this could take its place as the leader of the pack. But then that’s what is also so exciting about Moonrise Kingdom, it gives the impression that there is more really great work to follow. I’m more excited for Anderson’s next film now–whatever it may be–than I have been in quite some time.
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
The most recent collaboration between director Larry Charles and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen made me laugh enough that it warranted the price of admission, but like its lead character for the majority of the film, The Dictator feels constipated. It is constipated satire; there’s a sharp pointy shit in there somewhere, but it just won’t come out. And, when it finally does, just as the actual fecal matter in the movie, it appears to mostly hit the wrong targets.
There are a few really great moments in the film, but they’re mostly sandwiched between large expanses of comedic mediocrity. They come like oases in the desert, too few and far between. There’s an especially great speech on the (dis)similarities of Western democracy and Middle Eastern despotism delivered by Cohen’s character with Stephen Colbert-like faux-obliviousness. But as often as he’s mocking both the East and West, he’s making dumb jokes about how Anna Faris with a short haircut looks like Justin Bieber (which she actually doesn’t really at all–if you want a Bieber double look no further than Hilary Swank), or calling her “Hairy Potter” because she doesn’t shave her armpits. Really? That’s the best stuff these supposed comedic masters could come up with? I see better jokes on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and they have to write new schtick on a nightly basis. Even when those nightly fake-newsmen resort to puns, which admittedly they do quite often, both Stewart and Colbert can still come up with something better than “Hairy Potter.” (And let me reiterate: they do it nightly.)
Needless to say, The Dictator is not our generation’s The Great Dictator. And, if it is, then perhaps that says more about our generation than I’d like to admit. But there’s still some comedic diamonds in the rough there. And I must say, I’m happy that the film wasn’t just a repeat performance (as Bruno was of Borat). He’s trying to go in different directions, while still staying somewhat in his comedic comfort zone. I can appreciate and commend that without loving the end product.
Reel Rating: 0 out of 5
I’ve never wanted to watch a 2-hour Navy commercial, but now I can finally say I have. Last year, I watched a pretty dreadful 2-hour Army commercial in the form of Battle: Los Angeles, but sitting through that film was a cakewalk compared to soldiering on through this dreck. Based on a game with no story, no characters, and no thematic interests–namely Hasbro’s Battleship–the filmmakers behind this movie at least succeeded in staying true to the source material in that sense, for Battleship likewise has no story, no characters, and no thematic interests (aside from the jingoistic rah-rah that pervades just about every scene). Aside from these lacks though, the movie (save one scene) is actually nothing like the game Battleship, unless that game had aliens and I’m just totally forgetting something. Aliens? Yes, aliens. What they did was take the basic framework from that other unnecessary Hasbro franchise, Transformers, and changed…well, nothing. The only difference is that here director Peter Berg makes Transformers director Michael Bay seem like Orson Welles. Is this really the Peter Berg that directed Friday Night Lights? Surprisingly, it is indeed. But it’s also the Peter Berg that directed Hancock–and that should have been a warning sign.
Like Hancock, there is nothing fun or interesting about this film. There are no compelling characters–as I watched, I realized rather quickly that I could care less about the heroes, and even the alien villains were uninteresting, failing to evoke any real terror. The acting is horrible enough, but somehow the direction and writing are even worse. I only hope that audiences sink this Battleship–by not attending and getting it booted out of theaters as quickly as possible–rather than letting it sink them. (Maybe then Hollywood might get the message that they shouldn’t “adapt” movies from sources, such as board games, that are essentially plotless?)
Moonrise Kingdom is a film directed by Wes Anderson, and written by Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson. It stars Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and Bob Balaban. A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
The Dictator is a film directed by Larry Charles, and written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer. It stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, and Ben Kingsley. The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.
Battleship is a film directed by Peter Berg, written by Erich and Jon Hoeber, and based on the Hasbro game. It stars Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson. A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Focus Features
Design by Marie Havens
Film Still from Moonrise Kingdom, Photography Courtesy of Focus Features