January 31, 2013

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, starring Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward

Moonrise Kingdom:
Where children emulate adults to the point of insanity,
and how crazy are we grown ups anyways?

If you haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, you've probably seen the TV spot and wondered, what in the name of Hollywood is that? The IMDB page can tell you it was directed by Wes Anderson, the mind who brought you the Royal Tenenbaums, and that it has an all star cast you may have never seen act so silly: Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton... Okay, you've seen Bill Murray and Frances McDormand goof around but I digress. Here's the trailer, so you can decide what to make of it yourself:

Goofy, am I right?

I would hate for anyone to go into Moonrise Kingdom knowing even the first thing about the characters. It's a film that needs to be experienced from a place of complete ignorance, and if you ask me, that's the only way to learn.

However, I will call to attention the costuming in the trailer to make my point. The children, and even the adults, are acting out different parts or roles, as children often do. The boys look very childish in their uniforms, but they play at being grown-ups. Ed Norton’s character wears a Khaki Scout uniform tailored for an adult, but with the same childish shorts, and Bruce Willis’ police captain uniform is every bit as ridiculous.

The little girl wears a very grown-up dress, which I can only assume she stole from her mother, and while actress Kara Hayward was twelve at the time of filming, the dress in one way makes her look younger than she is, and in another, makes you guess that she could be older. Some of the tension in the film comes from the difficulty deciding just how mature she is based on her appearance, affect, and behavior, while wearing that ridiculous dress.

What to Expect:

Moonrise Kingdom is a fairly short movie, at 94 minutes, with the kind of art direction you don’t normally expect from a dramatic comedy set in the 60s, an all-star cast, all of whom use their acting talent to misbehave, and a stunning score that mixes militaristic themes with a love for art. I know, right?

The title “Moonrise Kingdom” is the only hint we get for a long time that there will be any fantasy at all, and really, there isn’t much, if any, magic. What you will find is a love of the fantastic, the hard to believe, and the supernatural - the kind of magic that allows children and adults alike to slip far away from reality, and fast.

There is some bizarre and experimental editing and direction in Moonrise Kingdom, so expect to be very estranged on your first watch. The costumes are so bang-on, they don’t feel real - they feel like costumes. All of the characters play make-believe, which is best exemplified by Ed Norton’s lines such as “Jimminy Cricket, he flew the coop!” (yeah, that’s what a camp councilor says when their camper disappears from his or her tent) and “This is my real job: Scout Master, Troop 55. Math Teacher on the side.” Every character plays a number of roles: the boy scouts play at being deputized by the police captain, the housewife plays at being a mistress, our young hero and heroine play at getting married (as most all children do), and our rebellious dissenter will play at being a police officer.

So What’s it About?
The child and the adult world interact in interesting ways that we see every day when the children in our lives say the most strange, innocent things. Sometimes they emulate adults in funny ways that show how little they understand the world they live in: the adult one. But do we understand them any better? When children emulate us in good ways, we praise them. When they copy our bad behavior, we punish them. What we're not seeming to get is that we are the mold they are trying to fill. Sometimes they fail, and sometimes they succeed a little too well. Growing up is pretty messy and it's hard to stay in the lines, sometimes.

The children in Moonlight Kingdom find themselves in trouble and the question I find myself asking is how they can in any way be blamed for their actions. Monkey see, monkey do. Watch Moonrise Kingdom for yourself, and let me know whether you agree, in comments or on Twitter.

I would like to add as a final note that Moonrise Kingdom has won a number of awards for categories such as music (from the Boston Society of Film Critics, and Best Score from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association), Best Ensemble cast (from the COFCA), Best Art Direction (from the Chicago Film Critics Association), a number of Best Film awards, and a number of original screenplay awards (from the COFCA, the Online Film Critics Society, the Phoenix Film Critics Society, and the Southeastern Film Critics Association).

The only Oscar it was nominated for is within the screenplay category: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. After all of the awards and nominations Moonrise Kingdom has achieved from smaller associations, the Oscars have been widely accused of snubbing the cast and crew. Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts.

January 23, 2013

Why The Truman Show Haunted Me

The Truman Show terrified me.

Actually, I believe its concept first began to bother me when I saw EdTV, where some average Joe becomes an instant celebrity when he airs every moment of his day on national television. The twist in the Truman show is that Truman Burbank does not know he's the star of a 24 hour, round the clock, exclusive reality TV show. If you've seen The Truman Show, you may think you know where this is going, but please hold tight, friends and readers.
Jodie Foster put (at least) one thing beautifully at the Golden Globes when she said, after objecting to the idea that every celebrity should air their lives in public, "Please don't cry; my reality show would be so boring." If an actress whom IMDB credits with 75 roles in mostly Hollywood films can say that her show would not be worth watching, I think we could all learn some humility and admit the same. None of us are Truman Burbank. Nobody would want to watch any of us 24/7, and there is no need to be paranoid that the world is a conspiracy theory centred around your secret reality TV show.

What the thought experiment in The Truman Show contributes to, for me, is the idea of complete and total indoctrination.

We can all examine our perspectives and see where we have been indoctrinated in one way or another. For example, if you're anything like me you might be up in arms lately about the accusation that the "liberal media" is taking over the United States. However, it is important to think critically about where our information comes from and what filters it passes through before it reaches our ears. It's important that we never forget that our view is limited by where we come from, to whom we speak, and most importantly, to whom we listen.
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented" — Cristof

The reason why The Truman Show haunts me is not because I'm afraid for my privacy, which is the fear that is most commonly drawn from the film. Another good theme is Freedom of Choice; would Truman have chosen the same life for himself as the one Christof chose for him? But the most applicable message from The Truman Show, in my opinion, is that every experience we have in the world is colored by bias, and we continue to color those experiences with our interpretation.

At the risk of getting heavy handed with this, I'll list just a couple of examples. The most obvious, that we can all see, is Truman's fear of water and the ocean, induced on purpose to keep him from leaving the set of his home town. But you have to imagine that if the control Christof has over Truman could go that far, it could also go as far as to mould him into the person that he is. Christof could have raised Truman to believe that the color of the sky is called Salmon, and as trivial and funny as that sounds, he could also have taught him that Canada is a sovereign dynasty made up of peasants who communicate in the dead language of Latin. Still trivial? Well, my ending thought would be to consider the extent to which we pass on beliefs to our children in much the same way. Please let me know if you agree or disagree. Am I the one being paranoid?