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.
Snowpiercer (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD), an international production from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho based on a French graphic novel, is a high-speed metaphor speeding down the science fiction tracks of genre cinema. That’s the way I like this brand of filmmaking: with the metaphors big, muscular, detailed, and punchy. You either give yourself over to the allegory, in this case a giant train as a self-contained eco-system traveling through a world plunged into an ice age with passengers segregated into castes and the oppressed poor rising up in revolution, or give up. There’s not much in between.
Think “The Odyssey” as reworked by Karl Marx and set on the Siberian Express. Chris Evans (Captain America himself) is the angry young leader in the dungeon of steerage class battling his way through the train, car by car, to the engine, seeing his fellow revolutionaries cut down by the stormtrooper soldiers as the poor, huddled masses progress through the levels of privilege and decadence. And Tilda Swinton all but steals the film from him as the devoted functionary dedicated to class division and population control through repression and purges, embracing the essence of her character as both live action political cartoon and deluded acolyte of an Oz-like ruler with Darwinian tools. It is the class system of the industrial revolution in microcosm played out as high-concept action movie, and with Bong (The Host) at the helm, it’s a violent, graphically dynamic journey.
Blu-ray and DVD with hosted by Geek Nation film critic Scott Weinberg and featuring William Goss (Austin Chronicle), Drew Mcweeny (Hitfix.com), Jennifer Yamato (Deadline), Peter S. Hall (Movies.com), and my old colleague James Rocchi (who is identified as MSN Movies, despite the fact the site effectively shut down a year ago). A second disc features additional supplements: a nearly hour-long French language documentary “Transperceneige: From the Black Page to the Black Screen,” the shorter “The Birth of Snowpiercer,” a piece on ‘The Characters” with actor interviews,” an animated prologue, and addition interviews and concept art galleries.
Only Lovers Left Alive(Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the richest film that Jim Jarmusch has made in some time. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are the eternal lovers Eve and Adam, vampire soulmates who have become disenchanted with a world that the zombie inhabitants (their word for humans) are blithely poisoning. They are sophisticates, sensualists, artists, beings who find their greatest pleasure in one another, and Jarmusch suggests that they have evolved to a kind of elemental form, pure beings who revere art and beauty and just happen to need to feed on human blood to survive. The problem is that human blood is also being poisoned, which makes the pure “good stuff” a kind of rare wine that is saved and shared sparingly.
Swinton and Hiddleston bring both a grace and ennui to the screen, suggesting centuries of experience by their very presence, yet the joy they give one another enlivens the mournful tone of their nocturnal existence. In contrast to their languorous sensibilities is Eve’s sister, a wild child played by Mia Wasikowska with an insatiable appetite and an instinct for chaos, while John Hurt is the dying elder, poisoned by the world around him. Read the reviews here.
I did not receive a review copy but the discs should have a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted and extended scenes.
A Brony Tale (Virgil, DVD, Digital VOD) offers a gentle entry into the very real “Brony” phenomenon: adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a group that is overwhelmingly male, heterosexual and unashamed of their love of a cartoon about pastel-colored talking horses designed for little girls. Our guide through this world is Canadian voice actress and singer Ashleigh Ball, who provides the voices of two little ponies in the current incarnation of the series, Apple Jack and Rainbow Dash. “The pervert alarm, for sure, went off in my head,” she says when she first learned about the subculture, and she takes a tour to investigate the phenomenon on her way to Bronycon 2012 in Manhattan, where she’s been invited as a guest of honor.
If you are expecting some kind of freak show, you’ll be in for a surprise. Director Brent Hodge is a friend of Ball and frames the film through her perspective and experience, which works because she’s a sincere, serious, likable young woman who finds that the Brony phenomenon is far more positive and affirming than surface appearances might suggest. The spokesmen for the Bronies (mostly men, which in this case is representative of the culture at large, though a few women are represented as well) make a fine case for themselves and celebrate the values of the series in their own lives. When we get to the Iraq vet and former artist who was lifted out of his depression and inspired to draw again because of his engagement with the series, you don’t feel like making fun of any of these fans anymore. A Brony Tale isn’t deep or probing but neither is it sarcastic or dismissive.
The DVD features director commentary, the featurette “The Many Voices of Ashleigh Ball” (which basically expands a sequence from the film where Ball performs the voices of her various cartoon gigs), a brief photo-shoot and an acoustic performance by Ball, whose band Hey Ocean! provides the film’s soundtrack.
Alfred Hitchcock called them the “plausibilists”—those nitpickers who can’t suspend disbelief long enough to swallow a movie’s colorful premise and just enjoy the thing. If you are a member of this army, you might have a problem with Snowpiercer. This futuristic picture has a whopper of a concept.
Let me state that I have no factual basis for believing that a train would be able to stay in continuous motion across a globe-girdling circuit of track for almost two decades, nor that the people on board could sustain themselves and their brutal caste system under such circumstances. But for 124 minutes of loco-motion, I had no problem buying it all.
Given the subject matter—centuries-old vampires, decaying places, boredom with immortality—Only Lovers Left Alive might easily be a dreary slog through genre territory. Instead, Jim Jarmusch’s new film is full-bodied and sneaky-funny, a catalog of his trademark interests yet a totally fresh experience. It’s his best since Dead Man (1995), stirring evidence that the longtime indie darling is back as an expressive force.
Our two principal vampires begin the movie in different parts of the world. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is a denizen of Tangier, where she slouches around the atmospheric streets at night. Here Jarmusch creates an entire imagined city from a few well-chosen shots of plaza, wall, and a cafe called the Thousand and One Nights. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives in Detroit, where he creates arty rock music and collects guitars. Adam needs Eve, so she joins him for sessions of nocturnal prowling (daylight must be avoided, so she sticks to red-eye flights).
“Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.” So commands Queen Elizabeth I to the androgynously beautiful young aristocrat Orlando (Tilda Swinton), the boy she has taken for her lover, and so he obeys, remaining unchanged over four centuries, or almost unchanged. One morning some hundred years later, the lad looks into the mirror while dressing and realizes he has transformed into a woman. “Same person, no difference at all,” she muses. “Just a different sex.” But true as that may be, her social and legal identity is completely redefined.
Tilda Swinton was largely unknown to the filmgoing world when she took on the role of fair, ageless young man who transforms into an ageless woman over the centuries and her androgynous looks evoke 17th century portraits of young male aristocrats. The Oscar-winning actress is of course far more famous today and the visual shock of the transformation no longer so surprising, but the journey is just as fascinating, entertaining and unexpected.
Filmmaker Sally Potter combines the experimental tools and feminist approach of her earlier films with art-house style and more conventional narrative storytelling to find the cinematic counterpart to Virginia Woolf’s writing in this 1992 adaptation of Woolf’s novel “Orlando: A Biography.” Visually, Potter recreates four centuries of British cultural history in painterly images and austerely constructed settings, from Orlando’s lavish manor to the frozen Thames of 17th century London to 18th century Constantinople, in Leningrad and in Uzbekistan. Narratively she plays with conventions and our expectations. Orlando speaks to the audience in brief, often witty asides and decades pass over the course of a single fluid sequence or in a cut. Potter craftily casts queer icon Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth, who plays the part without a hint camp, bringing a sly dignity to the role while also foregrounding the complicated swirl of gender and sexual identity in the film. Within this slightly skewed perspective, the flouncy, flamboyant male fashions and long curly wigs donned for formal meetings and social occasions take an a whole new connotation, especially as Potter explores issues of male friendship and companionship.