‘Moonrise Kingdom’ may be much more respectable than previous Cannes opening films, but that hasn’t stopped the polarizing reactions that always greet director Wes Anderson. Twee or endearing? Richard Porton reports.
At the press conference for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, a competition entry and the opening film of the 65th Cannes Film Festival, Bill Murray referred to art films as projects where “everyone works long hours and no one gets any money.” Of course, like all of Anderson’s features, Moonrise Kingdom, a characteristically whimsical tale of budding adolescent passion, is the most accessible kind of art film. Unlike many of the foreign art films showcased at previous incarnations of the Cannes competition, Moonrise Kingdom does not include 10-minute takes in which the camera never moves; nor does it require any specialized historical or philosophical knowledge. Given Cannes’ efforts to juggle art and commerce, opening with Anderson’s film is no doubt a canny maneuver. Yet for obsessive buffs, his work’s populist appeal is supplemented by his movies’ multiple playful references to other movies. And Anderson’s all-consuming—some might say nearly anal retentive—attention to art direction and costume design makes his highly personal films much more visually alluring than the vast majority of Hollywood “product.”
The highly enjoyable Moonrise Kingdom, although far from a masterpiece, is certainly a much more respectable opening choice than the clinkers that inaugurated the festival in recent years, from Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. But the mild-mannered Anderson remains one of the most polarizing figures in American filmmaking. On the one hand, Anderson’s fans endorse the critic Kent Jones’s 2002 assertion that “Wes Anderson is the most original presence in American film comedy since Preston Sturges.” On the other, a New York-based journalist I chatted with called Moonrise Kingdom “unbearably twee” and “endlessly irritating”—a description that neatly sums up many critics’ and audience members’ palpable hostility to a director who is far from a rabble rouser. When, for example, The Guardian recently posted four brief “featurettes” designed to promote the movie, the venomous observations from many of the commenters inspired a lonely fan to call for a moratorium on the word “quirky,” an adjective occasionally used to praise, but more often to denigrate, Anderson’s idiosyncratic body of work. Even Variety’s largely favorable review of Moonrise Kingdom chided Anderson for his “smug eccentricity.
If it’s possible to distill any general themes from the outbursts of the anti-Anderson contingent, it seems as if the “haters” assume that his preoccupation with precocious adolescents makes him little more than an overgrown, annoyingly precocious adolescent himself. In any case, Moonrise Kingdom has already provided ample ammunition for both the pro-Anderson and anti-Anderson camps. Set in 1965 on the fictional New England island of New Penzance—which manages to evoke both the sublime silliness of Gilbert and Sullivan and the romance of pirates—the opening shots, for better or worse, signal that we are, without a shadow of a doubt, in familiar Wes Anderson terrain. As the camera glides along the interior of Mr. and Mrs. Bishop’s (Bill Murray, cast in every Anderson feature except Bottle Rocket, and Frances McDormand) converted lighthouse, the spectators are offered a child’s view of an unhappy marriage—the middle-class home as dysfunctional dollhouse.
'Mission: Impossible' excepted, 2011 wasn’t great for Hollywood. But this year looks much more promising—from 'The Dark Knight Rises' to 'The Great Gatsby' in 3-D, all the movies to get excited about.
The Hunger Games (March 23)
Director: Gary Ross. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson.
Murray Close / Lionsgate
Adapted from the bestselling series of young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins and directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville), The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old in a post-apocalyptic world who competes in the titular annual televised event that pits boy and girl “tributes” against each other in a battle to the death. The sci-fi drama is the first film to be adapted from Collins’s trilogy of books, which have sold more than 8 million copies, and the film, which carries a budget of $100 million, also features supporting turns from Woody Harrelson as Katniss’s mentor, The Kids Are All Right’s Josh Hutcherson as her fellow combatant, and rocker Lenny Kravitz as her stylist. Think Twilight meets The Most Dangerous Game.
The Avengers (May 4)
Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson.
Whether you found him hilarious or lame, it's undeniable that the Academy Awards host gave a provocative performance. Watch MacFarlane's most controversial comments, as he ripped on everything from Clooney's pedophilia to Lincoln's assassination.
All the surprises and snubs from this morning’s Academy Award nominations honoring the best in cinema.
Marlow Stern talks to Michael Haneke about his heartrending ‘Amour’—which deserves an Oscar nod.
The actor-director dishes on his riveting CIA thriller, a virtual Oscar-nomination lock.
It's Hollywood to the rescue in actor/director Ben Affleck's new film, 'Argo,' based on the true story of when the U.S. staged a movie shoot to rescue hostages from Iran. Ramin Setoodeh and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers dissect the film.
Sundance darling ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ out June 27, is one of the year’s best, says Marlow Stern.
How he’s shattering a genre with ‘Django Unchained’.
Quentin Tarantino is at it again, directing another star-studded cast in a monumental slave story meets spaghetti western. But is it his best work? Ramin Setoodeh and Peter Travers debate.
Marlow Stern on why the film adaptation of the celebrated musical is the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.
Does 'Les Miz' justify all the Oscar buzz? Ramin Setoodeh and Peter Travers review the epic big screen adaptation of the celebrated musical.
Was Ang Lee’s film adaptation of ‘Life of Pi’ true to the novel? Mike Munoz explores the differences.
Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, a consultant on the movie, says in the end it’s not the details that matter.
The actress tells Ramin Setoodeh about ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and how ‘Hunger Games’ changed her life.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-bait film is being falsely accused of promoting torture, says Marlow Stern.
We missed you, Kathryn Bigelow! In this edition of Flick Picks, Ramin Setoodeh and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers review her not-quite-a-follow-up to The Hurt Locker.