I feel privileged that for the second year in a row, my friend Andrew (Encore Entertainment) has asked me to come out of my chemically induced hibernation and take part in this:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilized by different artists.
I suppose the point of this exercise is to objectively write about both luck and fate as equally represented in this year’s cinema. I’ll start with three movies that I thought profess the powers of fate over luck. It seems that heroes can’t escape their fates, the latter manifesting in their respective villains, buy you can also argue that these protagonists are unlucky to have such grugdge-fueled antagonists. Les Miserables is an epic spanning many decades, kings, republics, revolutions and tragic female deaths. But there’s a notoriously succinct spoiler on the doorstop – adapted by Tom Hooper – where, spoilers, it’s all about Javert chasing Jean Valjean into a river. It matters less to me whether a hero wins over his villain and more that fate – and the rules of drama – forces them meet. It doesn’t matter, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne mopes for almost a decade – he has to face Ra’s al Ghul’s dysfunctional family, including the latter’s daughter Talia and her lover, Bane. Elizabeth Shaw, with her quest to know life’s origins, is bound to meet the titular Prometheus, as she herself contributes to creating different monstrous life forms. In Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, James Bond helps M hide in Scotland but she will eventually face her persistent prodigal son, Raoul Silva, into a Pyrrhic victory.
There are some situations where the protagonists don’t have other characters as villains but instead their fighting concepts, societal oppression, injustice. Fate has its hand in helping these protagonists in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, free will factors into the decisions of the characters within the book’s cinematic adaptation by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis but only as a part of a chain reaction from another character’s actions. And to show the effect of this chain reaction we get to see at least four centuries when six different protagonists live, each of them living their own revolution as inspired by each other.
But I’ve been itching to write about luck and fate around the release of Moonrise Kingdom. On the surface level, I can talk about what forces has let Sam and Suzy’s puppy love survive both a storm and a group of meddling adults. Three factors are enough to derail a master plan that will either keep the young couple together or tear them apart. But I want, instead, to recall a discussion I have about this movie with a critic, who pointed out Sam’s age. If we do some basic math,
Sam will be of draft age when Vietnam’s at its worst.
Wes Anderson’s been known to show the heartbreaking interior within movies that otherwise would have been maligned for its twee surfaces and Moonrise is no exception. Even the smallest and harmless looking institutions – like the Boy Scouts and Social Services – in an otherwise insular island like the fictional New Penzance are militaristic and preparing its young recruits for the slaughter. This perspective on Moonrise Kingdom is new to me and it opens up a way of looking at movies. These movies only serve as snippets of their lives, segments that would be weaved into a larger, even national story. It reminds me of what someone tweeted about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson showing these characters slowly paving – or slow boating – the way toward the Sexual Revolution. Both movies show America is different stages of adolescence, a decade or less before its many destinies.
This year’s movies shows us many characters exploring different eras and territories which become problematic for the characters who explore them. In Argo, what happens to Sahar, the woman who helped save the Americans in hiding during the Iran Hostage Crisis? It’s established that it’s not a good idea for her to leave Iran, America’s enemy, for Iraq, America’s former enemy. Is it also enough that Broomhilda, and her titular hero Django in Django Unchained blew up Candieland? Will the other Plantation owners hunt the people responsible for Calvin Candie’s death? Will the West be as hostile to the couple as the South has been? I pose the same questions for Cid from Rian Johnson’s Looper, a movie that plays with the notion of fate by showing different alternate universes. When Joe kills himself while saving Cid and his mother Sara, has Joe really stopped Cid from becoming the destructive super-villain whom the latter is meant to become? Sahar, Django and Cid are contemporary versions of Antoine Doinel, leaving troubled lands and histories for frontiers, the latter symbolizing the troubling uncertainty of their fates. And it’s good to question these things, an activity that this year’s filmmakers openly encourage, knowing that great contemporary storytellers don’t wrap their creations in neat little bows.
In the Best Shot series The Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers encourages willing participants weekly with a new movie and a particular image (or set of images) within that stand out for us. Every movie has its challenges, this week’s selection being The Royal Tenenbaums being particularly daunting – I imagine any but two Wes Anderson with be equally difficult.
Which one that features a quirkily costumed character or occasional animal, setting or breaking the shot’s symmetry? Which segue shot showing a fictional book written by and/or about one or some of the characters? Which room or façade that Anderson himself meticulously planned and decorated, arguably trapping the movie’s said characters?
One of the rooms depicted is a product of Etheline Tenenbaum’s (Anjelica Huston) worldly education for her sons and daughter. There’s the one with younger Chas in his childhood room, dwarfed while sitting on a table near his shelves filled with monotonous finance books as large as his torso. Even if it’s one of the most monochromatic shots and mises-en-scene within Anderson’s oeuvre, it almost became my favourite shot because it’s the first one to crack me up.
And while we’re at it let me say that I’ve never seen this movie ever. I don’t the do the ‘let’s watch the director’s other movies’ kind of shit that other, better bloggers do before watching Moonrise Kingdom. I don’t subscribe to that time-consuming insanity because I have other time-consuming insanities. I didn’t even know if I was ever going to watch the latter at all, with my shifting mood and schedule.
Anyway! So yes, if you’re paying attention, I watched that before Tenenbaums. And I couldn’t shake what my favourite shot is in the former – Sam piercing Suzy’s earlobe – and I was thinking about how a man’s present work influences and/or mirrors his past, instead of the other way around.
There were many candidates for this Moonrise-like shot, the ones featuring the tent being too obvious. There’s widower Chas (Ben Stiller) dragging his kids Ari and Uzi out to a fire drill. But there are more moments like that when the main conflict surfaces, as the movie belongs to a sub-subgenre of family reunion dramedy. It’s no longer just Chas and his two sons, it’s the three of them and the rest of the family, particularly the dynamic between the three guys and their boor-in-a-suit grandfather Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). The rotten dad suddenly wants to change.
If I kept my Sociology of the the Family texts – ugh – I can tell you exactly what they say about grandfathers and grandparents’ role outside the nuclear family but it could be one of two ways. One is to instill traditional values to the children that the latter’s parents forego or rebel from, which Royal doesn’t do. The other is to be the lax influence in those children’s lives, which is a roundabout way of explaining why my best shots belong within this glorious montage of Royal and the kids making harmless mayhem in Upper West Side.
I don’t participate at this kind of activity but I’m of a child siring age. So when I look at children in the movies I think of the fun times I had as a child that I wouldn’t let my future kids do because they’re dangerous. Or realizing how fucked up these activities were in hindsight, like running across incoming traffic! But it’s this complicit nature within childhood, the bleeding ears and scraped knees and the pain being a temporary part of the fun. Kids egg each other on to this as much as adults do to kids. Even the passive aggressiveness that Chas and Royal inflict on other characters have traces of this behaviour.
Besides, Royal eventually jumps to this regressive state caused by the foresight that time is fleeting, when he no longer gives a fuck and wants to have the same fun as he did as kid. He’s the truth-teller within a family of uptight, stunted intellectuals. And even if they don’t take place within the doll house rooms or 388 Archer Avenue, Anderson unleashing his characters out to the chaos of New York, they still engender the director’s glowing childlike ethos.
- Best Shot: “The Royal Tenenbaums” (thefilmexperience.net)
(Finally saw this after putting it off for three months.)
I hope my opinion on this movie doesn’t stem out of a bias towards kids’ pictures, and that if by chance I hated this movie I would have been like those people who hate children and have no souls. At the same time this might not be considered a kids movie because Wes Anderson’s voice seeps it movie so much. At the same time adult themes seep into other media targeted for children (Flintstones), and as my old-enough-to-be-parents friends can attest, sarcastic language and tones have been prevalent in children’s media in the past decade.
The first moments of the film did delightedly overwhelmed with cuteness, but nonetheless, the Wes Anderson influence within the narrative was distracting in the first half (I have yet to read the book, and apparently it’s better for someone who writes about film to read the source material). I wanted something universal, and I wanted to see if he could make a film that has different themes from what he’s used to. I couldn’t see both aspects of kids movie and Wes Anderson movie together.
What probably convinced me to were the performances. This movie probably has George Clooney’s best performance of the year. He’s familiar with the heist-y, witty, fragmented masculinity and he’s familiar with these spins on the genre (Soderbergh). Behind the animation is someone perfectly conjuring a character with explosive excitability.
And his leading lady comes to task. I can’t believe I’m admitting this to the internet, but Meryl Streep almost made me cry in that movie. Her character and performance is more motherly and isn’t as fierce and combative as the other female characters in Wes Anderson’s movies (Anjelica Huston comes to mind). She even comes off as motherly in the first scene when she and Clooney portray a younger couple. But she does scratch his face, and it’s hinted that her character has a mysterious past.
Michael Gambon is also enjoyable as always, and Willem Dafoe disappears into his Rat character. And if you’re wondering why animals in n English countryside are speaking with American and Southern accents, I let it go.
What also caught my eye was how textural and sculptural the film is. The hair and the fur on the foxes’ faces, the detail of every set created and the gorgeous scene in the sewer waterfall added to this movie.