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Moonrise Kingdom is very wittily directed by Wes Anderson in a somewhat over the top style that constantly calls attention to itself.  It has an amazing look: there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.  In the end, it’s the cinematography (Robert D. Yeoman) combined with the overly bright set decoration (Adam Stockhausen, Gerald Sullivan and Kris Moran) that is the cleverest aspect of the movie; everything looks real, but only more so.  It begins with a long title sequence that goes from room to room in a home that looks so much like a doll’s house, you keep expecting to find out that all the humans you run across have been CGI’d in.  But that’s the style of the whole film.  The humans are treated as much like Barbie dolls as the set pieces are treated like miniature toys that can be placed at the careful whimsy of the filmmaker.  It’s beautiful to look at and very arresting; it all has the feel of a Norman Rockwell painting, but again, only more so.  But how well it all works for you will probably depend on how well the actors work for you.  The ones who handle Anderson’s style the best, the ones who manage to be real, only more so, are Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, sometimes Edward Norton and a frighteningly effective, only more so, Bill Murray.   All the other adults are fine, but Francis McDormand and Bruce Willis don’t quite make it as far as I’m concerned and Harvey Keitel isn’t given that much to do and proceeds not to do it.  But everyone does come across as feeling a little trapped by the limitations of a style that wants to have developed characters, only less so (it would get in the way of the filmmaker’s vision, a vision that seems to think that how far apart tents are placed and how brightly they are colored is more important than character).  But it’s the kids that are the central issue for me.  Either Anderson isn’t as deft with child performers as he is with the adults, or it’s just more difficult for young actors (really young actors) to handle the stylized approach used here (whenever I saw Jared Gilman as the orphan Sam and Kara Hayward as the rebellious Suzy, I kept thinking of movies like A Little Romance and Rich Kids and the performances turned in by the “star crossed “lovers” there).   The story (by Anderson and Roman Coppola—yes, Coppola) is a sweet romance about two troubled pre-teens who decide to run off together.  Why?  Well, because they don’t fit in and nobody likes them.  How do we know that?  Well, we’re told it when it comes to Sam, and there are some vague scenes when it comes to Suzy.  You either go with it or you don’t.  I didn’t as much as I would have liked and from the sound of things I’ll probably start getting a ton of hate mail for saying so.  But in the end I wanted more, only more so.

CALL OF THE WILDS: Reviews of Where the Wild Things Are and The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Where the Wild Things Are had to grow on me. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I finally figured out what it was about: a character study of a young boy with a classic case of serotonin deprived depression. Max Records plays Max (well, wasn’t that convenient), a young boy with wild mood swings of grandiose highs and debilitating lows, all out of proportion to the circumstances surrounding him, though those circumstances (he’s new to a neighborhood; no friend; child of divorce; a sister too much older than him to find him nothing but an annoyance; his mother has a new boyfriend) do add to his problematic situation. His mother, played excellently as usual by Catherine Keener, doesn’t really understand what’s going on nor has the time to figure it out. After a particularly egregious tantrum, Max runs away, finds a boat and sails to an island of gigantic and somewhat weird puppet/animal like creatures, strongly voiced by such actors as James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker. The film began working for me when I realized that these creatures all had similar, though even deeper and more irrational, emotional problems than Max. For the first time, Max gets to see himself as other people see him. He returns home, but it’s unclear whether this adventure has really helped him. The creatures are wonderfully animated, especially the mouths, and the music and songs are heaps of fun. The main drawback may be Spike Jonze (who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Eggers) who directs the piece as if he were Paul Greenglass doing a Bourne film. I found myself at times trying to fill in the blanks because Jonze had a yen for using jump cuts. But by the time it was all over, I was moved.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is well…fabulous (bet you thought I was going to say “fantastic”, didn’t you; please, it would be so obvious to include that word in this review). It’s as clever and fun and quirky as Babe, which is saying quite a bit. There is one rather odd aspect to it. Fox and his friends are animals who can walk, talk, reason, etc., basically humans in animal bodies. But they feed on other animals, like chickens, geese, turkeys, etc. This is rather creepy and almost comes across as cannibalism; it’s actually borderline disturbing. Of course, if one realizes that the original story is by Roald Dahl, whose stories always did have a unique and somewhat creepy aspect to them, I suppose it shouldn’t be very surprising that this isn’t your typical everyday children’s film. The suave and debonair Fox is played by the suave and debonair George Clooney. He’s actually a character I would have little to do with in real life since he’s so incredibly vain and egocentric, running roughshod over everybody else, doing whatever he wants to do when he wants to do it and if anybody else has a problem with that, too bad (he’s also pretty rotten to his son). However, that is one of the great things about art—one can spend quality time with someone one would never have anything to do with in real life from the safety of a movie seat. His longer suffering wife is played by Meryl Streep (that makes three films in one year for both of them–aren’t they the busy little bees) with an appropriately long suffering voice. The screenplay (by director Wes Anderson and the tres droll Noah—Squid and the Whale—Baumbach) is witty, energetic and never runs out of cleverness. The direction by Wes Anderson is ever so much the same; no scene is complete with some extra bit of visual manipulation that just gives it that something…well, extra, to make it memorable. The animation is remarkable, down to the moving hairs on the characters’ face. It’s what is called sophisticated and adult; the question then is whether it will sell in the multiplex. One can only hope.