Moonrise Kingdom


Viewed – 04 January 2020. Blu-ray

I’d say I’m becoming a fan of director Wes Anderson. His movies are so much pleasure to simply ‘look at’ with his captivating and whimsical camera work, shot competition and near-cartoonish approach to story telling. It’s a style that feels theatrical and obsessively planned out but retains a relaxed charm and personality that continues to draw me in.

This effort from 2012 follows the story of a young boy who runs away from a scout camp on a remote offshore island to embark on a back-to-nature adventure with the girl he loves. This causes the community including the girl’s parents Bill Murray & Francis McDormand as well as the local Police captain Bruce Willis to launch a search. This is a gentle, comical drama that has two strong turns from young actors Jated Gilman & Kara Hayward, perfectly supported by several recognisable faces including Edward Norton and Tilda Swindon. Although not the most compelling of plots, with a central love story that’s far from ‘deep’, Anderson’s direction is so charming that despite some slow moments I was still entertained.

It doesn’t have the infectious energy of say the more recent Grand Budapest Hotel, but with a fun setting and likeable performances this was another in the director’s back catalogue I’m very happy to have seen.

The Blu-ray release from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection has a pleasing image quality that is vibrant if a little soft probably due to the movie’s exaggerated sepia colour pallet. There’s also a perfectly acceptable 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that showcases the regular, off-kilter music cues and good use of surrounds and sub woofer (especially in the climactic rainstorm). However it’s in the extras this release excels, with a fun archive commentary from 2015 with the director along with select members of crew and cast. Add to this plenty of behind the scenes footage including a brief set tour with Bill Murray as well as footage filmed by Edward Norton. The movie is also presented in attractive packaging using the movie’s scout-camp imagery for a booklet, postcard and map of the island. It’s not in my opinion one of Wes Anderson’s best movies but perfectly fits in with a style that fans will be familiar with and is well worth a watch.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Doctor Strange


Viewed – 07 March 2017  online rental

A brilliant neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) suffers a car accident that leaves him with injuries to his hands … his tools you might say.  So with the fear his career might be in shambles, he seeks out some of the worlds greatest surgeons.  However all refuse or fail due to the extent of his injuries, and so Strange is forced to seek out more spiritual methods and stumbles upon a centuries old battle to save the world.

Doctor Strange

Special effects have come a long way and pretty much anything is possible on screen.  So here you get a kaleidoscope of visual wonder that seems to initially borrow from that ‘turn the city upside down on itself’ moment from Inception and run with it.  It’s dizzying but opens up a wealth of possibilities only limited by a director’s imagination.  Cumberpatch is perfectly cast, charismatic, a little bit arrogant and really looks the part complete with a great goatee.  Supporting him is Tilda Swinton as a mystical ‘ancient one’ – think Morpheus from The Matrix if you think of Strange as Neo.  Add to this welcome but under-used support from Rachel McAdams as Strange’s sort-of (but not really) love-interest, and also Mads Mikkleson as a rogue student who’s trying to bring about Armageddon more or less with the help of a giant CGI face.

Tilda SwintonIt’s all wonderfully bonkers and should probably be taken as such as it lacks  emotional weight or personal stakes and largely washed over this viewer, despite several exciting sequences (a chase through parallel dimensions for example).  Thankfully Cumberbatch and especially Swinton help make everything work to an extent and this makes for good entertainment that’s also surprisingly funny at times.  What the concept might bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hinted especially during the end credits) is ripe with potential … but despite touching on such possibilities, only delivers a partially satisfying experience.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Hail, Caesar


Viewed – 10 March 2016 Cinema

I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen.  However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.

hail caesar

The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage.  It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me.  However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.

Hail__Caesar__BrolinNow you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question.  Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum.  Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them.  Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.

The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in.  The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out).  Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.

Verdict: 2 /5

We Need To Talk About Kevin


Viewed – 17 May 2012  DVD

Following a life shattering ‘incident’ former career woman Tilda Swinton attempts to rebuild her life, but soon finds the past and the present are not things she can run away from.  Somewhere at the centre of her problems is Kevin, her troubled and disturbed teenage son.

Co-starring John C Reilly and based on the acclaimed book by Lionel Shriver, this intelligent drama kept me hooked with its clever direction and splintered narrative.  Directed by Brit Lynne Ramsey this is a thought-provoking and well acted movie with a particularly strong turn from Swinton even if the likable Reilly is a tad under-used.  I found the way the story was told, with the looming shadow of something bad having happened, but the viewer not being let in on what … was very unique.  Although a simple story at heart, the director’s often unnerving use of reoccurring sounds and colours (especially ‘red’) made this much more than the some of its parts.  I would have appreciated a bit more incite into the character of Kevin, what made him tick etc, and the ending although I guess realistic, left me asking too many questions.

Yet as an example of social commentary this certainly highlights issues all too real in our world, be it troubled children, un-supported parents or the dangers of allowing problems to get swept under the carpet.  Swinton’s character was heart-breaking and the young actor playing Kevin certainly has a career of nutcase roles to look forward to, with a fine line in evil stares.

Recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Burn After Reading


Viewed – 21 April 2010  DVD

The much acclaimed and Oscar-winning sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen deliver a movie that once again isn’t easy to classify.  With a big name cast including George ClooneyBrad Pitt and John Malcovich, this both ingenious and absurd comedy follows a group of people and their inter-connecting lives whilst they fornicate, black mail and double cross whilst unaware of how closely linked they all are. 

Coens regular Francis McDormand plays a gym worker who along with friend Brad Pitt (on wondrously dorky form) find a CD detailing secrets from the CIA’s files, and so set about trying to blackmail the man responsible for loosing it, namely John Malcovich.  At the same time we have small time CIA operative George Clooney who is having an affair with Malcovich’s wife, but also finds time to date Francis McDormand, who is looking for love via internet dating.

As ever with the Coen Brothers, the appeal is in the casting and the dialogue, both of which positively shine, with Francis McDormand probably being the stand-out, although Clooney’s nervous, panicky performance is probably the funniest I’ve seen him do.  This is also full of surprises, and had me thrown back in my chair in shock on several occasions.  Like the brothers’ earlier The Big LeBowski this shines as a likable idiots out of their depth story, and I certainly came away entertained.

Verdict:  4 /5