Sean K. Cureton

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Wes Anderson Delivers for the Seventh Time

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on June 18, 2012 at 11:13 am

Theatrical Poster

Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
4 out of 4 stars

Moonrise Kingdom, the seventh feature film from acclaimed director Wes Anderson, is quiet possibly the most accessible film of Anderson’s career. Kingdom is funny, heartwarming, and not quiet as quirky as such Anderson favorites like Rushmore or The Life Aquatic. The film also marks Anderson’s second collaboration with screenwriter Roman Coppola since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, which proves itself to be just as fruitful a partnership now as it was five years ago.

Wes’s new film is set in a New England island called New Penzance, and its story follows the exploits of two young star-crossed lovers named Sam Shakusky(Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop(Kara Hayward). This film, much like many of Anderson’s other works, is chiefly concerned with children, and the way in which children will often take on the roles of the adults around them while the adults behave like the children who have taken over the adult roles for them. In watching Sam and Suzy struggle to figure out the right way to kiss and hold one another one is reminded of just how clueless we all are when it comes to being in a position of adult authority and responsibility, no matter our respective ages.

The film boasts one of the most effective ensemble casts this reviewer has ever seen, touting both Anderson favorites like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman as well as Anderson new comers such as Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, and Harvey Keitel. Of particular interest, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton both provide performances in this film that might be their best works respectively in a long time for both of them. Norton’s Khaki Scout Master Ward is touchingly naïve and dedicated to the children in his scout pack and Norton’s performance in this role is a reminder of how great a performer Norton can be when he is given a great film to work in. Willis is equally wonderful as the island policeman Captain Sharp, whose understated humanity is heartbreaking and intensely human. Quiet frankly this might be the best performance of Willis’ entire career as it speaks volumes for his acting range outside of his usual roles within action flicks where he is predominately called on to play John McClane type heroes.

In addition to the stellar cast of seasoned adult actors, Wes has also cast some of the most effective inexperienced child actors this reviewer has ever seen, from the numerous khaki scout actors to the more prominent performances from stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Gilman is effectively charming in his portrayal of Sam, a precocious orphan who struggles to find his place in the world, and Hayward is wonderful with her withering stares and practiced maturity that acts as a crude disguise of her underlying innocence.

Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful, beautiful film. The settings are quirky and odd, yet comforting and familiar to anyone accustomed to Wes Anderson’s sensibilities. The cinematography is surprisingly old fashioned, with numerous shots of perfect symmetry and a slightly tinted shade to the film itself, which creates a sense of classicism for the film. Moonrise Kingdom may be the most human film that Wes Anderson has directed yet, and it is also the best film to come out so far this year.


A Semi-Prequel and a Semi-Success

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on June 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Theatrical Poster

Directed by Ridley Scott
2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Prometheus may be the most hyped and anticipated film in Ridley Scott’s career, and with good reason. After 33 years, Scott has finally returned to the science-fiction universe that he created in 1979’s Alien, possibly the most loved mainstream sci-fi film of all time, next to the Star Wars Trilogy. It’s funny to think that after Scott retires he will be remembered primarily as a science-fiction director, even though he has made only three films within that genre, including this one. Even though Scott has certainly directed other films of note outside of the science-fiction genre, most notably such films as Gladiator in 2000 and Thelma and Louise in 1991, Scott’s visionary creations found in Alien and Blade Runner are just so immensely impressive that they are the films that one immediately thinks of whenever Ridley Scott’s name is mentioned.

Following that legacy, Scott’s new film, which is and is not a prequel to Alien, delivers the same awe-inspiring sci-fi epic that fans of Alien and Blade Runner will be sure to love. Prometheus is beautiful, frightening, and awesome in every way. The way in which Scott sets up his shots allows the viewer to become completely immersed in the world he has created, which is both familiar and uniquely different from 1979’s Alien. Like Alien, Prometheus follows the exploits of one female heroin in particular, in this film a scientist named Elizabeth Shaw(played by Noomi Rapace) who is searching for what she calls “engineers,” an ancient species in space who may have created mankind. Ultimately, her search takes her to a place that she could never have imagined, and the answers she finds only lead to bigger questions and a body count that leaves her as the soul survivor of the film, much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley being the lone survivor at the end of Alien.

Scott’s new film works well primarily because of the actors that have been attached to the project. Noomi Rapace, who was in the original Swedish film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is wonderful as scientist Shaw, whose innocence and child-like wonder at the creation of man gives the film its since of wonder and awe. In addition, Michael Fassbender is flawless in his portrayal of David, the AI of the film, whose cold, in-human detachment is both menacing and disarmingly calming at times, placing Fassbender’s portrayal of an android on par with Ian Holm’s. Watching Fassbender in this film is a joy, and it is most definitely his performance that carries a large part of the film. British actor Idris Elba, from The Wire, is also particularly great in his role as the captain of the ship named Janek, whose self-assured manner and suave persona allow the audience to breathe a little in the more intense moments of the film.

There is simply no way to explain the joy that can be found at certain moments when watching this film. Scott has delivered a great addition to his cinematic oeuvre with this film, and has further established himself as one of the greatest directors of science fiction of all time. However, Prometheus does have one major flaw which holds it back from being something more than good, which is its frustratingly ambiguous script co-written by screenwriter Damon Lindelof. Over the course of the film, Lindelof’s script constantly fails to provide enough of a tie to the mythology set up in Alien, and gets tripped up in the kinds of fantastic and mysterious plot points that Lindelof failed at exploring on the television show Lost and continues to fail exploring with this film. It’s ok that the film doesn’t tell us the meaning of our earthly existence, it doesn’t have to, but the fact that much of the film’s more basic plot points are left unexplained or needlessly ambiguous is completely inexcusable, leaving the viewer deeply disappointed and quiet angry in this reviewer’s case.

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a lot of fun. After all, who hasn’t been longing for another sci-fi epic from the director who last visited this genre of storytelling with 1982’s classic and seminal film Blade Runner. It’s just horribly unfortunate that Scott decided to hand a large amount of control of the film’s narrative over to Damon Lindelof, whose script is dreadfully ambiguous and completely devoid of any answers to the aforementioned ambiguity, let alone any overall meaning of the film as a whole. I tried really hard to love this film for a solid week after seeing it, but like Lindelof’s Lost, Prometheus is just too shallow a film for me to truly find myself caring about for very long, even if Ridley Scott’s vision still shines through in the darkness.

The Men in Black are Back

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on June 2, 2012 at 10:08 am

Theatrical Poster

Men in Black 3
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
3 out of 4 stars

Given the twelve-year gap between the release of this film and its predecessor, there was some question as to just how good this film could be. When the initial trailer first released for the film about four months ago, I remember thinking to myself that Sonnenfeld may have lost touch with just what made the Men in Black series cool and was simply banking in on a lucrative franchise with a half-assed sequel using the clichéd go-back-in-time-to-save-the-world plot device familiar to too many science fiction genre films. I was happy to find out that my initial wariness to the trailer was unnecessary, as Men in Black 3 is a more than welcome addition to the Men in Black film series.

This time around, Agent Kay and Agent Jay are forced to grapple with a villain named Boris The Animal, played by Flight of the Conchord’s Jemaine Clement, who is the last of an ancient alien race that was known to conquer and destroy other sentient races in space. Unfortunately for Boris, Kay was able to stop him from destroying Earth and the human race in the ’60s, when he arrested him and placed him in a high security prison located on the moon. Inevitably, Boris escapes from this prison at the beginning of the film, and decides to use time travel to go back in time and prevent the younger Kay from stopping him, thereby ensuring the invasion and destruction of earth in the present day. Jay must then go back in time himself to stop Boris from stopping Kay, which leads to a very funny and fun science fiction comedy with plenty of historical asides from the ’60s to sweeten the deal.

Josh Brolin, who plays the younger Kay in the film, is brilliant and does a very funny and quite accurate Tommy Lee Jones impression which allows for much of the time travel plot line to work so well, allowing the viewer to forget about the otherwise missed presence of the always funny Mr. Jones. In addition, Sonnenfeld has provided another great alien side character for this film named Griff, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, an alien who is constantly aware of all the different time lines that could possibly take place in the space time continuum and is forced to live in fear and anticipation of possible destruction and death at any given moment. Griff’s cheerful outlook, wide eyes, and physical presence are very reminiscent of a younger Robin Williams, from the Mork from Ork era, and is quiet possibly the best addition to the series in this film.

However, one thing that does seem to be missing this time around is some of the gravity and seriousness that was present in the first two films. When the destruction of earth was imminent in the first two installments of the series, the viewer was scared for Kay and Jay. There was an ominous tone in those films that allowed for the series to be both funny and scary because it seemed as though even in the most ridiculous scenes, the characters within the universe of the film knew that it was all very real. Maybe it’s the absence of Rip Torn’s Zed or Tommy Lee Jones’ dour manner, but there is just something not quiet the same in the Men in Black universe this time around, making Men in Black 3 less of a satire and more of a farce.

All in all, Sonnenfeld has created a sequel in Men in Black 3 that is hysterical and heart wrenching despite its use of the clichéd time-travel plot device. Agent Kay and Agent Jay are back in action, which is something to be very thankful and happy about.