Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson

****

The opening shot of Moonrise Kingdom is of a wall with a picture of a house mounted on it; we then travel around this cosy yet well-appointed two-storey and are introduced to its inhabitants in a series of camera pans and long dolly shots. Why yes, Wes Anderson IS the director. How’d you guess?

Few directors can inspire such strong responses in both his admirers and detractors as Wes Anderson. His critics see his repetitive camera moves and offbeat plots as being overly quirky with little going on underneath. His adherents will bask in the warmth of the storytelling, the minor insanities of his characters and his clear love of the French New Wave. Moonrise Kingdom will do absolutely zilch to convince his critics otherwise, but why change now? His last feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, saw Anderson apply his trademarks to the stop-motion animation process. With its abundance of beiges and determined lack of swearing, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a cartoon made flesh. Imagine if Russell from Up were a few years older, was put on Ritalin and had earned all his merit badges, and you’d get Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). An orphaned boy scout, he goes on the run from his island scout camp with local lass/pen pal/soulmate Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). In their debut film roles, their underplayed delivery is perfect, since no-one except Bill Murray ever knowingly overreacts in a Wes Anderson film.

Murray plays the father to Hayward’s young tearaway, and is just one of a number of folks searching for the star-crossed non-lovers (They’re only 12, after all, though they do share one of the most hilariously awkward kissing scenes to come along in quite a while). Also looking for them are Mrs. Bishop (Frances McDormand), the local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and his ever-prepared troop. The adult actors clearly relish the chance to send up their images (Willis and Norton are a long way from Die Hard and Fight Club here), whilst the children are all utterly engaging, brimming with scary levels of confidence. A cartography-inclined narrator, played by a bearded Bob Balaban, is the icing on a sweet little cake. Seriously, you’ll want to pop him in your pocket and take him home as a pet.

Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script imagines a sweet little island haven in 1965 that borders on the twee (No roads, only dirt-tracks, switchboard communication) but has such an attention to detail that you just can’t help but fall for it. It may see Anderson at his most Anderson-esque, but Moonrise Kingdom’s simple story of young love also sees Anderson at his warmest and most accessible. If you do have a prejudice against the overhead shots and samples of ‘60s French pop, your loss.

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Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Director: Edgar Wright

****

Is there any way to make an adjective like ‘nerdy’ sound good? The connotations are pejorative, but ‘nerdy’ is the best way to describe Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. One could argue that the ‘nerdy’ tag is one of the reasons why it has underperformed at the US box office, but this flailing B.O. take is undeserved; Scott Pilgrim is an achingly hip, deliriously energetic little flick. Nerds rejoice: your ship has come in!

Using the word ‘nerdy’ is unavoidable when referring to Michael Cera, who stars as the eponymous Mr. Pilgrim. Cera has made his career from playing awkward geeks who somehow still get girls with relative ease (How does he do it?! I wish I knew sooner, because my teenage years were lonely ones!). From ‘Arrested Development’s lovable George Michael, to the likes of Juno and Superbad, he’s a geek running the risk of serious typecasting. However in Scott Pilgrim, Cera’s nerd boasts one important difference: he kicks ass! After falling for the kooky Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott is confronted by her Seven Evil Exes, whom he must defeat in order to be with her. The exes include a jackass action movie star (Chris Evans), a dopey rocker (a blond bewigged Brandon Routh) and a slimy music executive called Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, clearly having fun with this role). Meanwhile, Scott has to dump the girl he was dating before (Ellen Wong, adorable), try to find success with his band Sex Bob-Omb and tolerate his sister’s (Anna Kenrdrick) nosy advice. Game on!

Your first question is probably this: what the hell is an Evil Ex? It’s an ex-boyfriend, but quite why they’re evil isn’t clear to me. Where did they get their powers? Why does Scott have to defeat them to get Ramona? And why does Scott share a bed with his gay roomie (Kieran Culkin, possibly the best thing in the film)? The latter occurs because it’s hilarious. The first two questions result from underplotting. Michael Bacall’s script with director Edgar Wright is as slight as the comic book from which it’s adapted. The plot mechanics make little sense, but then the direction tells us that sense is going out the window on this one. Sound effects are written onscreen. Boxes appear next to characters listing their stats. One scene even plays like a scene from ‘Seinfeld’, music and all! Why? Because it’s freaking cool! The world of Scott Pilgrim bleeds colour, from the sound waves from Scott’s guitar that morph into giant creatures (!) to the greens and blues Ramona dyes her hair. The palette is varied and neon-bright, whilst the battles between the exes are intense, edited to within an inch of their lives. Epileptics need not apply.

The 12 to15-year-olds at whom this film is aimed will be in heaven; the opening Universal logo is rejigged to resemble a pixelated image from a video game, whilst the strongest bad language is (brilliantly) bleeped to ensure a PG-13/12A rating. Frankly, if you’re over the age of 40 or have never played a video game or guitar before, you might be left wanting by Scott Pilgrim. It’s fairly shallow once you prod below the surface, but that surface is full of laughter and vim. Like Wright’s first film Shaun of the Dead, the film has a clear affection for its main character, and does its utmost to ensure you will too. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a wild ride and dares you to keep up.