Sunday, 27 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom displays all the idiosyncrasies one would expect from a Wes Anderson film. And then some. The director goes for it in his fairytale imagining of a story in which the main focus is upon children. It has an odd crudity to it – more so than any of his other live action works. This is undoubtedly a conscious decision and all adds to the childlike charm. It also adds to the period flavour.

It is 1965 and a troop of Khaki Scouts are camping on a small archipelago, Penzance Island off the coast of New England. Young Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has run away from Camp with local girl Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) and Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) round up a search party, including Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and hunt for the missing pair.

Norton plays it appropriately straight as a man who takes his scouting very seriously. Willis gives more than a touch of melancholy. McDormand and Murray are a little quirkier in performance. But they all play second fiddle to the kids. The two young leads do well, heading this seasoned cast. There is nothing obvious about newcomer Jared Gilman’s performance. It is wonderfully unaffected and, as so often with children in real life, unconsciously eccentric. Kara Hayward has a charming vulnerability and makes for a believable young sweetheart.

In scripting the film, Wes Anderson reunites, and comes up trumps again, with Roman Coppola, with whom he wrote The Darjeeling Limited. Moonrise Kingdom is completely charming and should – as proved in Cannes just recently - melt the iciest of cynical hearts. It’s as fresh and brilliantly peculiar as anything Anderson’s done previously. At times its cartoonishness undermines the emotional heft. As with all of his films there is depth if you look for it. The director always manages to captures the seriousness of childhood and here he is given opportunity to explore that in more detail. It makes me wonder what kind of a kid he was, himself. I like to think he was just like one of his characters, marching around giving orders to a lackey traipsing behind him taking notes. But I imagine it would have been an awful lot of fun – even for that lackey - being his friend.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Shattered Glass

Poor Hayden Christensen. There really is no shaking the legacy of those Star Wars films. Shame, because contrary to common belief he’s not a bad actor - wooden in said space opera. Agreed. But they weren’t exactly great scripts and I suspect he didn’t receive the requisite direction a young actor might need. But here he’s pretty good. Released in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith this sees him in something a lot more down to earth.

The 2003 film Shattered Glass tells the fascinating real life tale of Stephen Glass (Christensen), a journalist at The New Republic. We are told it is “the in-flight magazine on Air Force One” and for a publication of such distinction it has an absurdly young staff: one of whom, just in his twenties, is Glass. It is discovered that one of his pieces, Hack Heaven, is not entirely true, and leads to further revelations that he has been fabricating material.

In scope, it’s quite a small story, but that’s one of its strengths. Director Billy Ray allows us a detailed peek into the close workings of an interesting publication and a scandal that rocked it. Kept within a relatively short timeframe and in and around The New Republic offices, the focus on the events is tight. This keeps things lean and mean with little to distract from the central story. Hollywood take note. It didn’t exactly blow me away. I would liked to have see more examples of his fakery. But this is solid script-led story telling from a writer/director who really understands his subject matter. It also has a very watchable cast.

Bright young things of the early noughties give strong support: Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson and Steve Zahn As one of the older cast members (and that’s not old), he of many-a-Simpsons-voice, Hank Azaria is excellent as always. Random fact: owner of the magazine, Marty Peretz is played by director Ted Kotcheff, he of First Blood fame. Christensen himself does a good job – Glass is something of an oddball. Although he is capable of kindness and liked by his peers, there is just something not quite right about him and he pulls this off well.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Horrible Bosses

The film is unimaginative as the title. Borrowing the central conceit from Strangers on a Train the director has the bad sense to include a mention of both this and Throw Momma from the Train. This acts as a startling reminder that you could be watching something more worthwhile.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) each, as you may have already suspected, are experiencing serious problems with their employers; Kevin Spacey plays psychotic, Colin Farrell a coke-snorting arsehole, and Anniston a dangerous nymphomaniac. Taking the advice of one Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) the three of them decide to do a switcheroo, each murdering the boss of one of their friends.

Just one example of the lack of imagination involved in this production is its use of How You Like Me Now by The Heavy. The song was something of an unofficial theme for David O. Russell’s instant classic The Fighter which makes its appropriation here not just uninspired but impotent. But perhaps that’s being picky. The main problems are in what lacks: originality, characterisation and laughs.

There is very little chemistry between the three leads or even a shred of evidence as to why they are best buds. The ever-reliable Bateman does his best with a poor script, Sudeikis is poorly cast (ladies man? I don’t think so) and Day’s amateurish performance is so annoying I very nearly switched off. There are worse comedies but I’m struggling to remember the funny bits. I feel it’s a wasted opportunity, particularly in its use of the three villains. Nice to see Aniston playing against type, and to see Spacey in a comedy but neither are really given the chance to shine. A brilliantly-styled Colin Farrell barely gets a look in. Possibly because they are so underused we’re not given enough reason to hate them. And for a film involving adult themes such as sex  and drugs it’s very lightweight. If you’re using these elements in the first place you might as well go for it and not hold back. As a result, Horrible Bosses never delivers the necessary darkness for a supposed black comedy.