Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)



7/10

Superheroes are usually infallible, except for whatever their one weakness is.  What I mean is that after a knock down, drag-out end of the world fight, they are able to get up, wipe the dirt off their shoulder, and walk away without any visible scars.  Batman is not superhuman though, he relies on technology and a therapist's dream amount of anger.  It has been eight years since the events of The Dark Knight and no Gothamite has seen even a glimpse of Batman (Christian Bale).  Coincidentally, nobody has seen reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne either.

Bruce limps now; he shuffles around with a cane, stoops his shoulders, and has no cartilage in his knees.  During a fundraiser, he is actually at a disadvantage and lets a cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), sneak into his rooms and steal his dead mother's pearls right in front of him.  Yep, Bruce Wayne is depressed.  Business isn't doing too well either.  Along with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who runs the day-to-day of Wayne Enterprises, Bruce sunk half his money into nuclear fusion research trying to develop clean energy for Gotham City.  That avenue does not appear to be taking off any time soon.  Alas, if it was just his money, Bruce probably would not be so down in the dumps, but he also took the money of philanthropist and do-gooder Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).  Bruce really does not like to lose a good looking lady's money.  

The Dark Knight Rises would be an altogether odd Batman film if the main villains were depression and the recession.  No worries, the bad guy this time literally emerges from a dark hole in the ground, wears a grotesque mask on his head, and sounds like a hard to understand Darth Vader.  Bane (Tom Hardy) is a big guy.  One could say he grew up in a rough neighborhood and has been socialized to become the world's, and naturally Gotham's, leading terrorist.  He nonchalantly takes over and disintegrates a CIA aircraft, takes the entire New York Stock Exchange hostage, and oh yeah, gets his hand on a neutron bomb which he hangs over the heads of the woefully unlucky Gotham citizens.  Please Batman, come back to us; but there is no Batman to be found.  Gotham City blames the Batman for Harvey Dent's death and despite the best efforts of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to temper their anger, nobody likes Batman too much.

That is just fine with Alfred (Michael Caine).  He is more than happy to see Batman hang up his repelling hooks and leather body suit.  Besides, he thinks Bruce Wayne can do the world more good than Batman can; especially an older and weathered Batman.  But if it wasn't for those gosh darn meddling kids, Batman probably would have stayed out of this whole mess.  Rookie police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) knows the truth about Bruce Wayne.  How?  Well, you will have to watch the film for that; needless to say, I thought it was quite the stretch how he figures it out.  Blake works for this film's resident jackass, Foley (Matthew Modine), who is angling to take over for an even more weathered Commissioner Gordon.

The Dark Knight Rises is a big film.  I do not necessarily mean that in terms of its budget, its expected box office take, or the IMAX screen I saw it on.  Just like The Dark Knight, its underlying philosophy is big.  The script dives deeper than the ordinary first layer of is he a superhero or a vigilante?  Perhaps Alfred is on to something that what the world needs is another philanthropic billionaire and not a guy hopping around town on his latest crazy gadget.  The gadget this time is a kind of batwing, but is just odd looking and clunky.  Bane also has his own philosophy, but it is more "We are the 99%" taken to the nth degree combined with a dash of mayhem and some spicy nuclear armageddon.  I only understood about 80% of Bane's dialogue.  There are times when he is truly hard to understand.  He voice is amplified by a microphone and I think there is an Irish accent in there.    

This film is a fine capstone to Director Christopher Nolan's trilogy.  It stays away from the campy, make fun of itself side ala Batman Forever and continues the effective choice from the previous film of an incredibly formidable enemy.  Just like Heath Ledger's version of the Joker, Bane is not someone you take lightly.  Batman can mess around with the Riddler and Mr. Freeze, but Bane would eat those two for breakfast.    

Friday, July 27, 2012

Farewell, My Queen (2012)



5/10

The French Revolution kicked off in 1789, not too long after America's ended.  Fortunately for King George III, he lived in London and not Philadelphia or Boston.  King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were not so lucky; their revolution sprouted on their doorstep.  The four days which Farewell, My Queen covers, 14-17 July 1789, were dark days indeed for the French monarchy and their noble hangers-on.  Nobody leaves Versailles because it is too dangerous, the Bastille is stormed, and there are pamphlets floating around Paris of 286 named individuals whose heads the revolutionaries wish to chop off.  The number one name on that pamphlet is Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger).

Unlike Sofia Coppola's 2006 version of this story, Marie is not as young as she once was.  She misses her youth but appears to have found company with the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).  Scandalous rumors circulate not only throughout the palace of the extent of their liaisons, but also through the rest of France.  Many believe the Duchess is just as responsible for the people's miserable state of affairs as are the King and Queen.  In fact, her name is number three on the guillotine wishlist.  However, both of these ladies are merely supporting characters in Benoit Jacqot's version; their story is told through the eyes and ears of the queen's loyal reader, Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux).  

Sidonie is at the queen's beck and call whenever she feels in the mood for a play or a novel to be read to her.  She does not have a more devoted subject; Sidonie absolutely worships the queen is all she does or could do.  The queen recognizes the true adoration in Sidonie's eyes and so employs her as a sort of sounding board and confidant; not to the extent of Duchess de Polignac's level of intimacy, but nonetheless, Sidonie is one of the closest servants to the queen.  The other palace servants take note of this and Sidonie appears to be among the more higher-ranking servants.  Even downstairs in the servant's quarters there is a caste system of hierarchy and rank.  Because Sidonie is extremely well read and discreet on top of it, she is quite the capable spy who can ferret out closely held information when events start to pick up the pace outside the palace walls.  Sidonie knows which servants to press for info, whose palms need greasing, and in which particular dark corner of the room to stand to eavesdrop on conversations to acquire the most up to date gossip on how the queen is feeling, who woke the King up in the middle of the night, and how close the revolutionaries are getting to the outside walls.

Unfortunately, what sounds like deep palace intrigue and an interesting history lesson in the French Revolution mostly lands with a thud on screen.  Marie Antoinette is seen a few times and the Duchess hardly at all.  A movie which spends a lot of time discussing the truth and falsehoods of their relationship only puts them in the same room together once.  Sidonie holds your interest as she scurries back and forth trying to please the queen but her limited view of the action also limits the audience's view.  As the situation becomes more pressing and hectic, the camera almost latches on to the back of Sidonie's neck as she runs down the long, slick hallways of Versailles.  Towards the end, the camera work was becoming a bit distracting.  One should not notice the camera's movements too much but after another jerky movement to the right and back left or another awkward close-up, I wished they would just place the camera on a tripod and let it be.  What the cinematographer may have thought was innovative and eye-catching was more irritating and a case of needless showboating.

The art and costume directors must have had a field day though.  Any film set in 1789 Versailles probably has these types of creative personnel lined up down the block raising their hands to get a shot at it.  While Farewell, My Queen works on an aesthetic level to produce a great looking period piece (minus the camera), this film is only for the Francophile.  Those who relish any story of Marie Antoinette will probably love this movie no matter what.  There is a lot of name dropping and whoever remembers their pre-Napoleon French history class from college may smile and nod as name after name is casually mentioned in conversation.  For those who are a bit more discerning in their historical fiction though, you will not take very much away from this film you do not already know.  Go enjoy some French wine instead or pick up a copy of A Tale of Two Cities to quench your French Revolution itch.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Take This Waltz (2012)



9/10

What is new and exotic today will eventually, albeit incrementally, morph into routine.  Superficially, this applies to the latest products such as vehicles and electronics, but dig a little deeper, and it concerns people.  Every now and then, you will meet a person you just connect with.  Your wits match, you laugh at the same things, they are outrageously attractive, and you abhor the thought of saying goodbye at the end of the day and going your separate ways.  What compounds this situation and serves as the basis for an outstanding film is, perhaps one of the two people who are magnetically drawn together is already married.

Margot (Michelle Williams) is one of those freelance writers who frequently says she wants to be a writer, but she has not started yet.  In the meantime, she travels to Nova Scotia to write an update to the official pamphlet for a colonial era village.  While there, she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) who has coincidentally journeyed to the island to sketch and paint.  Why the coincidence?  They happen to live across the street from one another back in Ontario.  Immediately straining credibility limits, Take This Waltz begins on thin ice but very quickly settles down into an entirely engrossing and mesmerizing feature.  

Margot and Daniel verbally spar with one another but keep finding ways to bump into one another around town.  All of this would be much easier on everyone's guilty feelings if Michelle's husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), was never around or ignored his wife, or was just unpleasant in some overt way.  However, Lou is a genuinely nice guy who loves his wife and their situation together.  Michelle and Lou have been married for five years, live in a quaint house, and play funny games when the alarm goes off in the morning about who loves the other one more.  Lou cooks most of the day because he writing a cookbook all about chicken; this sounds contrived but it works because the audience has never seen it before.  Lou's sister, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), also pops on screen every now and again as Michelle's friend and to carry a small sub-plot as a recovering alcoholic.

Sarah Polley's previous film, the wonderful Away From Her (2006), was about a very hard subject, the onset of Alzheimer's disease in one partner and their institutionalization.  At first, the audience assumes Take This Waltz is a break from such weighty subjects and will be a much lighter affair, maybe even a romantic comedy.  Oh, but don't be fooled.  This film is just as dramatic and heavy.  Michelle Williams spends an unusual amount of time in tears.  She truly loves her husband and is happy with their lot in life.  She cannot conceive of deliberately hurting him.  But Daniel just may be her soul mate, if there is such a thing.  Their conversations together are profound and meaningful.  Every member of the audience will walk out of the theater talking about the scene between Margot and Daniel while they are having martinis.  Sarah Polley wrote a very strong screenplay and the dialogue creates scenes of immense magnitude and feeling even though there are just two people chatting over a small table.  

This is also a strong cast for what is obviously a very low budget independent film.  It is good to know talent still gravitates towards quality.  Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman are some very noticeable names when they appear on a movie poster and stand out even more when they are attached to such a small film effort.  As for Williams, this was a much better showcase for her talent than last year's My Week with Marilyn, even though she was nominated for an Academy Award for that.  In fact, her performance here blows that one out of the water.  

Do yourself a favor and seek out this film.  It will most likely be hard to find, but it contains some of the strongest acting, creative writing, and enjoyable filmmaking of the year so far.  If not for the clunky meeting in the beginning and an overly long and choppy coda at the end, Take This Waltz was almost perfect.  Bravo Sarah Polley.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Your Sister's Sister (2012)



7/10

Even though Your Sister's Sister is set mostly in the open air of a secluded area of a Puget Sound island, it feels a bit claustrophobic because of the very small cast.  There are only three characters who perform 99% of the film's interactions and there are only so many combinations a screenplay can invent to pair two of them off at any given time.  There are long, drawn out conversations which have an improvisational feeling about them and are enjoyable to sit back and watch.  Audiences conditioned to expect quick cuts, brief sequences, and pointed dialogue may grow impatient with the extended length of scenes, but for those who relish real situations and characters who take more than a few minutes to develop will enjoy getting to know these people, quirks and all.

Jack (Mark Duplass) appears, just by looking at him, to be having a rough time.  There are bags under his eyes, he has a few extra pounds, probably from too much booze, he is unemployed, and social conversations he attempts to contribute to have a way of ending awkwardly and uncomfortable for all in the room.  His brother died a year ago and he still has no idea how to move on from that.  His best friend happens to be his deceased brother's ex-girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt).  Perhaps this is Jack's way of hanging on to something his brother once had.  Iris cares for Jack and after one of his completely inappropriate diatribes, she orders him to get on his old bike, peddle down to the Seattle ferry, and go spend a week alone in the woods at her father's cabin.  Perhaps some solitude and introspection will kick him out of his funk.

The cabin is not empty though.  Someone else with life problems decided to squirrel away there; this is Iris's sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt).  Jack and Hannah recognize a bit of themselves in each other, mainly the self loathing bits, and realize that first night together at the cabin that talking about your problems to a stranger over a bottle of tequila is oddly cathartic.  Hannah just walked out of a very long-term relationship with her girlfriend and all of their long-term plans they had together.  Both Jack and Hannah are searching for what they should do next in life, where to go, and how to change to get there; so maybe this is why they drunkenly end up in bed together.

The film sets itself up to go in many directions.  It could have been self-destructive depression for Jack.  It could have been a modern west coast version of Walden for lost souls.  However, it chose to become a somewhat comedic love triangle.  Iris shows up at the cabin early the next morning and Jack decides she does not need to know what happened last night with Hannah.  Each of them maintains their own respective agendas and watching them emerge and conflict with one another is amusing and intriguing to wonder how it may play out.  Jack is nervous about the truth being revealed, Iris has her own secrets, and Hannah may be trumping them all.  This talk about secrets makes Your Sister's Sister sound devious and manipulative but it is not; somehow, the script keeps the atmosphere light and airy.

Writer/director Lynn Shelton has worked with Mark Duplass previously (Humpday) and the summer of 2012 appears to be his emergence to a wider indie public.  He has three films in theaters simultaneously (Your Sister's Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, People Like Us) and reminds me of Jessica Chastain from 2011 who came out of nowhere and seemed to be in a new release every single weekend.  British actress Emily Blunt keeps her accent for this film and the plot noticeably includes a few sentences as to why that is.  Her being British is not necessary to the film so waiting to see how they end up explaining away her accent causes a bit of an eye roll but it is not too distracting.  Rosemarie DeWitt comes out the winner of the three.  She has the benefit of playing the most well written character and she has the acting chops to pull it off.  Jack is more the clumsy oaf while Iris is more the sounding board for his issues, but Hannah is in on both of their secrets and therefore benefits screen time wise.

Your Sister's Sister is much better than its recent cinematic cousin Safety Not Guaranteed and aims for more depth in its characters.  The film lacks any particular punches which may have catapulted it into more profound waters; however, it is a worthwhile indie film to enjoy in an air conditioned theater on a hot day when the just the thought of another version of Spiderman will not do.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)


7/10

Beasts of the Southern Wild is shot through the eyes of a six year old.  To Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), the islands of southern Louisiana are a magical place filled with lucky people who do not have to live like cowards behind the levees and only get one holiday a year.  Hushpuppy's voiceover reveals the island folk rarely need an excuse to have a party or take another holiday.  If this film were shot through the more perceptive eyes of an adult, the audience I bet would get a much different take on things.  Extreme poverty, alcoholism, and child neglect are just the first few overt issues which come to mind.  It was a very wise move for the filmmakers to stick with the child protagonist.  Magical realism is far more acceptable and preferable to an audience than what could arguably be termed child cruelty.

Hushpuppy and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), live in an area called 'The Bathtub'.  It is not protected by the New Orleans levee system, people scuttle around from place to place by haphazardly crafted boats, and everyone expects that some day, the melting polar ice caps will submerge their homes and only the strong will survive.  It turns out that some day in Beasts of the Southern Wild is now.  When Hushpuppy first hears the thunder of the coming storm, she believes it to the be the sound of melting glaciers falling off of Antarctica.  It is never mentioned by name; however, the storm appears to be Hurricane Katrina.  Since the main part of her father's and his friends' days consist of drinking, there are no preparations for the coming calamity, just praise for the brave souls staying behind for what they claim will be a little wet weather and catcalls to those fleeing behind the levees.  Where is mama in all of this?  The idea of mama to Hushpuppy is and old, dirty basketball jersey she carries around with her and sometimes talks to.  Every now and then, Hushpuppy thinks she sees mama when she glimpses a far away lighthouse or watches an approaching helicopter.  Whether mama is dead or has just run off is another unexplained phenomenon kept by daddy.

After the storm, Hushpuppy and daddy float around in their make shift boat which is the back of an old pickup truck with a struggling outboard hanging on behind it.  They meet up with a few other survivors who immediately start engaging in activities they do best, drinking.  However, this was not your regular storm.  The water is not receding, the animals, even the fish, are dying, and whatever sickness daddy had to start with is starting to pick up speed.  Throughout the ensuing scenes to remedy their dreadful situation, Hushpuppy keeps the audience involved with her prescient voiceover.  A notable example is her comparison of getting old and sick outside of the levee wall versus inside of it.  Outside there is savagery; the young will eat the old and move on.  Inside, they plug you into the wall (ventilators).  Whenever daddy feels he has been a particularly lousy father, he teaches Hushpuppy to do something such as catch a catfish her bare hands and be sure to give it a good punch when she gets it into the boat.  There is also an odd side story involving long extent carnivores called aurochs.  They represent the savage beasts who kill and eat anything and everything.  The allegory is not readily apparent and its payoff is understated at best.  

This description sounds starkly bleak, which the subject matter surely is, but the film is very well put together.  The scenery looks like it would after biblical destruction, the actors appear to all be locals and have the accents to prove it, and the music is incorporated effectively.  The very young actress playing Hushpuppy is phenomenal.  Perhaps a few years from now she will realize just how deep her character is written and how only a very minority of child actors could have possible pulled it off.  Her father, while not necessarily a sympathetic character, was well cast and while is not particularly an ignorant man, is certainly a man set in his ways determined his progeny will follow in the local footsteps.  Having respect for and maintaining the traditions of your place of birth is one thing, but more than likely, Hushpuppy is being set up for a life of substance abuse and unsteady employment.  However, that is jumping ahead.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a very specific time and place with thoughts only of the next meal, not tomorrow, and definitely not next month.   

The camaraderie between our heroes and the locals is fun to watch and seeing how they make the best of a horrible situation is quite creative when you see it as Hushpuppy does.  Beats of the Southern Wild is sweeping up awards at multiple film festivals.  It won four at Cannes, two at Los Angeles and Sundance, and Best Director at the Seattle Int'l Film Festival, no small feat considering hundreds of films are screened there.  Director Benh Zeitlin also adapted the screenplay from a one act play by Lucy Alibar titled 'Juicy and Delicious'.  There is a high probability this film will continue to progress with strong word of mouth, end up on several Top 10 lists, and be in line for some Oscar nominations.  The film is certainly worthy of the word of mouth it is getting because audiences have really not seen anything like this before, but the automatic Top 10 inclusion is a bit far-fetched.  It is winning awards for cinematography, but the hand held camera borders on annoying at times.  If there is a party, the audience intuitively understands it is fun.  Does the camera have to wildly spin around as well?  When someone is running, must the camera bounce up and down too?  See Beasts of the Southern Wild for the story, the locations, and the child actor.  You will tell your friends about it the next day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

To Rome with Love (2012)



6/10

We have seen Woody Allen’s multiple love letters to New York City, London, Barcelona, and Paris; now he sets his satirical eye on the ancient city of Rome.  Starting halfway through the previous decade, Woody Allen altered his standard oeuvre from mostly comedic farce with a dash of autobiographical drama set amongst towering New York skyscrapers to films set in major European centers where the city itself is almost its own character.  Barcelona nudged its way into the love triangle of Vicky Christina Barcelona and Paris’s nightclubs and streets were a central character along with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein in Midnight in Paris.  In To Rome with Love, Woody is even less subtle about his intentions by loudly proclaiming in the film’s title what he is up to.
There are multiple stories entering and exiting the stage with even more characters; however, unlike the majority of films which juggle numerous plot lines, these do not intersect; they exist by themselves and involve their own unique Roman characteristics.  There is John (Alec Baldwin) who chooses to retrace his former life as a young man in Rome 30 years ago and ends up having a very interesting encounter with Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), Sally (Greta Gerwig), and the flippant Monica (Ellen Page).  John has seen it all before and sets himself up as a Greek Chorus variant to the younger crowd.  By the end of their section, every man in the audience over 30 should be nodding their heads in agreement about the Sally vs. Monica pros and cons.  Their love triangle is a convenient excuse to insert the ancient ruins and architecture which you knew must fit somewhere in the film.
Hayley (Alison Pill) is in her early 20s and fulfills one of the ultimate lost tourist clich├ęs in Rome; she bumps into Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), falls in love, and decides to spend the rest of her life in Italy.  Upon hearing the news, Hayley’s parents, Phyllis (Judy Davis) and Jerry (Allen), jet over to Rome to meet this guy and survey the situation.  In his typical Woody Allen way, Jerry has a lot to say about the turbulence on the flight over, sizes up Michelangelo as a Communist, and can barely stand the irony that Michelangelo’s father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), is an undertaker.  Leave it to Woody to be able to fit his absolute phobia of death and all its accompaniments into a film about Rome.  This particular film segment uses Roman opera as its backdrop with a very clever farce involving singing in the shower.
The most blatant comedic segment in the film is Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni).  He is just a regular working stiff who wakes up at the same time every morning, eats his toast, goes to work, engages in water cooler talk, and comes home.  One day, Leopoldo starts getting chased by obsessive paparazzi and screaming autograph seekers wherever he goes who want to know what he likes on his toast, how he shaves, and whether he is a boxers or briefs man.  There is no reason for his sudden fame explosion which confuses Leopoldo all the more.  This also confused the old ladies sitting next to me; however, this was a brilliant way for Allen to skewer the celebrity fetish.  Some people are famous for just being famous even though they have accomplished absolutely nothing. 
It seems Woody Allen used his most recent European love letter to fit in some messages he has had stirring around his brain for a little bit.  He tackles the odd fascination with know- and do-nothing celebrities, the appeal of going after the vapid and attractive female even though you know she is ridiculous and it will only end badly, and what I suppose is a critique of not being a prude at the beginning of marriage.  Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) have just arrived in Rome after their wedding to start their new life.  Through a silly and contrived sequence of events which only serve to set up a ridiculous situation, Antonio winds up with a stunningly gorgeous prostitute, Anna (Penelope Cruz), and Milly winds up tempted by her most favorite actor in the world.  This particular part of the film does not work too well but it does provide plenty of laughs as inappropriately clad Anna visits the Vatican. 
To Rome with Love is not among the top tier of Woody Allen’s decade long infatuation with filming in European locales (Midnight in Paris) but it is certainly not the worst (Scoop).  Weaving in and out of these disconnected plot lines is fun and most of them are quite enjoyable.  Using Rome and all of its wonderful settings to tie all of his characters together easily helps out what will most likely become one of the more middle of the road and average Wood Allen pictures.  However, it is worth noting than an average Woody Allen film is head and shoulders above what is playing down the street in your local multiplex right now. 

  

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)



8/10

If the director’s name was omitted from the opening credits, you would still know exactly who created Moonrise Kingdom.  Wes Anderson’s style is so familiar to his fans they would be able to pick out his sixth film anywhere.  The character close-ups with them staring directly into the camera are here.  The short, simple and declarative sentences are here.  Of course, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are here; however, those two are the extent of the usual Wes Anderson film players involved in his latest.  There is also the whimsical plot, an omniscient narrator, and a character named Social Services.
Moonrise focuses on two 12 year olds, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward).  They consider themselves misunderstood and find kindred spirits in one another on a small and isolated New England island in 1965.  Sam is in a Khaki Scout troop run under the detailed eye of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).  Suzy is an island native being raised by her lawyer parents, Walt (Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), who call each other counsellor during conversations.  Sam and Suzy follow through on their idea to run away together and are quickly pursued by Suzy’s parents, Scout Master Ward, and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who appears to be the lone policeman on the island.
Sam and Suzy make a good pair.  He has absorbed excellent camping and nature skills from the Khaki Scouts and Suzy, after getting tired of feeling like the black sheep of her family, relishes the fact that she is not alone in the world.  Sam has been alone a long time.  He is an orphan who does not fit in anywhere and is now also pursued by Social Services (Tilda Swinton).  These two 12 year olds spend a lot of time in front of the camera together and thankfully pull it off.  Moonrise Kingdom would have been in big trouble if Wes Anderson had not found capable kids to fill these shoes.
The adults take on supporting roles either as parents who just don’t understand or confused authority figures who cannot figure out why their charges would ever want to run away.  Captain Sharp is tired and lonely, the Bishop parents are growing apart (which is not helped by Laura’s frequent bullhorn announcements), and Scout Master Ward thought he was running a tight ship of scouts before the run away.  He is starkly confused on why anyone would ever want to leave the scouts, even if they are the most unpopular one in the group. 
The actual run away escapades, the ensuing search parties, and the developing relationship between Sam and Suzy are best left for the audience to watch and discover rather than read about it in a review.  Notable supporting characters pop up now and then which will cause audience members in the know to smile.  The most enjoyable parts of the film though is Wes Anderson’s familiar atmosphere.  There are not too many films whose world you wouldn’t mind drifting off into.  Plenty of people would raise their hands to jump into a Wes Anderson world, be it in such previous efforts as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and now Moonrise Kingdom.
Robert Yeoman has been the director of photography on all six Wes Anderson films and the audience can see it immediately.  The long, panning shots, the in your face close-ups, and the ever so slight fairy tale feeling are all trademarks of his style and camera work.  The script is up to Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums standards and thankfully surpasses the lesser efforts of The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited.  Co-written with Roman Coppola, the dialogue is what you expect from Wes Anderson and the scenes with the 12 years olds are spectacularly written.  These are not just children, perhaps under-sized adults is a more suitable term. 
Thank goodness for Wes Anderson.  Without him, the cinema would be a far less interesting place to go to.  His peer group includes the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Cameron Crowe.  Together, that list makes a formidable effort to educate movie-goers about what true films are capable of and continue to push back against the mundane garbage you usually are served from the likes of Michael Bay and Adam Sandler.               

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)



5/10

Aubrey Plaza has this look about her.  She is short with large eyeballs so she has this way of looking up at people and showing them non-verbally that she thinks they are morons and whatever situation she is in at the moment is stupid.  If you are a fan of the TV show Parks & Recreation, you have seen this character before in April Ludgate.  The filmmakers of Safety Not Guaranteed most likely thought, “Well, we have this character straight from Parks & Rec, I guess we’ll hire the same actress.”  Darius (Plaza) is a direct rip-off of April Ludgate; however, instead of working for Amy Poehler in Pawnee, Indiana, she is an intern at Seattle Magazine.
Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) volunteer to tag along with one of the magazine’s journalists, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), for a few days out to the cold Washington State coast to track down the guy who posted an abnormal classified ad.  Kenneth (Mark Duplass) seeks a partner for time travelling, but the prospective partner must bring their own weapons and he warns them that their safety is not guaranteed.  This is not a foundation for the hardest hitting journalism, but then again, the film does not make out Seattle Magazine to be the most informative periodical.
Picking up where Jeff fails, Darius uses some of her feminine skills to convince Kenneth she is interested in being his time travelling partner and they embark on training.  Training consists of target practice with a pistol, breaking and entering and grand larceny at a research lab, and sitting around a campfire playing the zither.  Jeff, meanwhile, tracks down his old flame from 20 years ago.  He has idealized a summer from his past and is convinced Liz (Jenica Bergere) is the one who got away.  A simple example to explain just what kind of person Jeff is comes from this conversation with Liz, “So, tell me about your life Jeff.  Well, I have an Escalade.” 
There is something off about Safety Not Guaranteed and I believe it is the script; it tries way too hard to be the next quirky comedy.  First of all, her name is Darius?  Strike one.  Three oddly matched and eccentric people go on a road trip, share a hotel room, and Jeff spends an inordinate amount of time trying to get Arnau laid.  Strike two.  The zither is strike three.  Also, there is an undercurrent of mental illness only hinted at in the script but far more blatant on screen about Kenneth and his time travel ideas.  Would a journalist really attempt to write an article mocking a guy who could have a serious mental issue all because he posted a newspaper ad? 
Mark Duplass, who is also this film’s executive producer, might as well be channeling Zach Galifianakis and his character from the Hangover series.  Everything he does is over the top, aimed at the cheap laugh, and leaves a million unasked questions about how he has gotten to this point in his life.  Duplass directed both Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Cyrus so he should be well aware of the importance of three dimensional characters and how fast the mocking of a character that may or may not be all there can get old with the audience real quick.  Perhaps he is not aware since Cyrus was pretty horrible.
April from Parks & Rec does not need her own spin-off story.  Her character works best as a sidekick who shows up every now and then to roll her eyes, say something snarky, and move on.  A full feature length film of that attitude wears thin.  Jeff’s subplot with his long lost love Liz is more promising and works out exactly how it would in real life, so here is a big kudos for first time screenwriter Derek Connolly.  However, if Connolly had throttled back a bit on the overt attempt to be quirky ala Zooey Deschanel, Safety Not Guaranteed would have been far better for it.