"Moonrise Kingdom" (***)
Directed by Wes Anderson
For once I don't feel like Wes Anderson has lied to me again. Not that any of his previous films have claimed to be anything else, but it so often feels like his stories pitch notions that they have no intention of keeping. Wes is all about the innocent beauty of romance in the context of a not-so-innocent world, or at least that's how it often seems. I walked into "Moonrise Kingdom" like so many else did, expecting more of the quirky, entertaining, but still hollow and dishonest brand that Wes has been pushing across six previous features. What surprised and delighted me about the film is that it's still Wes, but he doesn't seem to faking sincerity this time around.
Taking a tweedy and knowingly ridiculous interpretation of a chaotic ex-military romance, Wes brings some actually true conflicts about adulthood, life, violence, and love to a much younger setting. In embracing the youth of his brand, rather than run off with adults who act like children, which serves ever so annoyingly in nearly all of his previous film, Wes taps something that doesn't feel dishonest. The amazing beauty that his team is often capable of constructing can finally be given the chance for the audience to drink it in. It's not a lie, and the emotions that the characters feel aren't an obvious facade. This is a fascinating debut for Kara Hayward, a place where Edward Norton can finally sink into something fresh again, a project for Tilda Swinton to wax ridiculous playing "Social Services", and honestly a career-best performance from Bruce Willis, if that means anything. It's a thing of true beauty, and one that Wes is sadly not likely to achieve again.
"Damsels in Distress" (***1/2)
Directed by Whit Stillman
I feel I may have failed to explain Whit Stillman to my brother in advance of watching "Damsels in Distress", which is much less a film for artists and more a film for writers. Over the years the prevailing feeling around Stillman's films is characters that don't behave the way "normal" people would, which is a fascinating skill that keeps him from becoming too attached to characters. Then again, Stillman doesn't plan to inject too much overt conflict to the bloodwork, instead finding greater shades between characters in his behind-the-back gestures between one-another. But even in comparison to his own films, "Damsels in Distress" was a much less accessible Whit Stillman.
Stillman takes a full throated look at the landscape of college, and comes up with some actually very true results. We focus in on a group of girls whose creed isn't to shoot for the stars, but settle for far-below-average guys so they may build them to be better. Of course the more hilarious arguments of the film are that in the overall scheme of things, the guys don't change much, and the women always end up hurt, and hilariously aren't furious at the men. Greta Gerwig is the tactile standout, measuring slight emotional spurts amongst a continued layer of denial and superficiality. Even more hilarious is that her character, who seems the craziest of the group at the start, becomes practically grounded in comparison to her fellow cohorts. Stillman lays out jokes subtly throughout the film, bringing them back about at the perfect intervals of the film. True, overt conflict isn't a preoccupation of Stillman's, but he has so much more to work with here. It's far more than simple comedy. It's well-informed satire that sheds light on overlooked truths.
"La Luna" (***1/2)
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
On the tailend of my previous post on Pixar shorts, I laid out a list of my favorite of Pixar's history of shorts. Today, we find all of the usurped by a piece of singularly outstanding creativity of passionate storytelling. Just before "Brave" came across the screen, audiences everywhere were given a glimpse of this traditionalist story of three men, a boy, his father, and his grandfather, out training the boy for they're rather specific job. What spurns forth from there is best seen for yourself, but not only is it a touchstone of beauty, but it speaks to the themes of the film it's attached to. Finding your own way in the world, rather than doing things the way they've been done for years. It works in any job, movies most especially. It also works as a subtle reminder, that while "Brave" may not do things the way other Pixar films have, it doesn't make it any diminishing thing.
Directed by Peter Berg
I have a very reliable creed as far as action movies go, especially ones as illogically constructed as this one. As long as it's fun, I'm usually onboard. That being said, there was something that extremely irritated me in the first forty minutes of "Battleship". I can't comment on the aliens or the action, since I didn't stay to see them. Usually it's a given to stay on once the action starts, but I just couldn't take so much predictable stupidity. There is absolutely nothing worthwhile or compelling about this film, and even though we spend nearly every moment of the film's first act with these characters, we never care about them. As a matter of fact, we hate most of them. The only thing egging me to continue was Rihanna, who was a bright ray of sass in comparison to the rest. Truth is, I didn't want to indulge the possibility of seeing these characters save the day. That's enough reason to leave.