This is not your father’s Hamlet. The present melancholy Dane is son of the deceased chairman of Denmark Corporation. His castle is a sleek but alienating New York highrise dotted with omnipresent surveillance cameras, his kingdom city streets lined with paparazzi and tabloid reporters.
The development of the MTV style has brought us to Armageddon (a two-and-a-half-hour coming attractions trailer for itself) and The Cell (corrupt visual extravagance), so it is very tempting for critics to despair over the kudzu-like growth of this moviemaking approach. On the other hand, the world of music video also planted the seeds of Seven and Being John Malkovich, so it is not entirely a dead end. And now it has brought us to Charlie’s Angels.
“Not another movie from an old TV show,” moans an airline passenger in the opening scene of Charlie’s Angels as T.J. Hooker: The Movie flashes on the screen as the inflight movie. It’s a cute bit of self-deprecating humor, but this is one sentiment that backfires.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation with his latest feature, Isle of Dogs. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s rigidly arranged chocolate-box technique, you can guess why animation appeals to him. For starters, it allows total control over the image, with nary a lock of hair (or piece of fur) out of place. Anderson’s fondness for squared-off, symmetrical compositions looks less strange in a cartoon (see 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) than it sometimes does in live action. And with animation, Anderson can fully indulge his decidedly non-realistic style (stretched to its live-action limit in the dazzling Grand Budapest Hotel): he can exaggerate color, design, and behavior without literalists howling.
Here’s another theory about why Anderson returns to animation in Isle of Dogs: It gives him cover for making his most dramatic film yet.
As much as I appreciate the love Bill Murray gets from arthouse auteurs like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, there are times when the great man should cut loose in a big, broad comedy. Rock the Kasbah aims for that spirit, but—nope, no cigar. Murray plays an L.A. talent manager, Richie Lanz, who never made the big time but has a bushel of anecdotes about hanging out with Madonna and Jimi Hendrix. Given a shot to take his latest protégé (Zooey Deschanel, amusing before she exits the film) on a USO tour in Afghanistan, Richie comes a cropper when things fall apart in Kabul. His trust in a pair of weapons dealers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan) is ill-judged; his liaison with a gold-plated hooker (Kate Hudson) is expensive; and there’s this mercenary (Bruce Willis, grim throughout) who keeps turning up at key moments.
Moonrise Kingdom (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – Wes Anderson has made a career exploring the childhood neuroses that keep adult characters in an arrested state of adolescence and stasis. It’s been a lively career with creatively energetic high points like Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums but an approach with diminishing returns. Until Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film that refracted his portraits of dysfunctional families and modern anxieties through a storybook world.
In Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Anderson finally builds a film around the troubled kids themselves. Kara Hayward’s Suzy, a book-loving loner with anger issues, and Jared Gilman’s Sam, an eccentric orphan out of step with his fellow Khaki Scouts, are two misfit adolescents who instantly recognize the other as a kindred soul and run away together into the wilds of a small New England island. Which, admittedly, makes escape a little difficult, what with a small army of Khaki scout trackers and a storm on the way.
It’s funny, it’s playful, it’s full of nostalgic blasts and period trappings, but most of all it is loving: accepting of the headstrong kids determined to find their place in the world, forgiving of the oblivious adults around them, affectionate in its storybook imagery and narrative playfulness.
Bill Murray has a honking fat role in St. Vincent, his biggest part in an out-and-out comedy since The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. That’s pretty much the sole draw for the movie, and given Murray’s unique screen presence, it’s something. He really looks juiced in this one, doing loose-limbed dances—his great ungainly body remains a vehicle for endless comic possibilities—and bellowing insults to friends and enemies alike. He even remembers to adopt a New Yawk accent at times. If it were a better movie, this would be a signature role, because it’s all about the Murray persona: a deeply sarcastic man struggling to find his way to sincerity. That struggle is why Murray looks so melancholy in so much of his work.
But it’s not a good movie. Murray’s slovenly misanthrope is Vincent, who reluctantly agrees to babysit the 12-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) of his new next-door neighbor (Melissa McCarthy, toning it down here).