Thursday, October 04, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I love Wes Anderson's movies but watching Moonrise Kingdom, at first, I was thinking 'no'. The opening scenes echoed The Royal Tenenbaums. The iconic house, the quirky children lounging about, doing their own eccentric things, dressed à la mode d'Anderson. I began to tighten with disappointment. Oh, pffft.

But then, oh then, it snuck up on me and I was thinking 'how could anyone fail to be utterly charmed by this movie?' What hard-hearted soul could see this and not be swayed, undone, dismantled and completely transported by nostalgia (which if it has a colour, surely has to be burnt-orange.)

By the end of it, I had rationalised and accepted that the waste of actors like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton was necessary in this movie. All the adults except Ed Norton and Bruce Willis were bit players. But then, but then: oh, it's a movie about two 12 year olds in love. You can't have the adults intruding on that narrative. (Recently I had to defend myself against the charge that some of my characters in my manuscript are 'flat'. I like flat characters and it's not just lazy writing that can result in these types of characters. A flat character is one upon which the reader can hang his/her own ideas, almost like one of those cut-out doll shapes and you choose the paper clothes. When I'm reading I don't want everything spelled out, I want very little spelled out, in fact sometimes I want nothing spelled out at all. That way my reading becomes part of the construction of the story. I don't want to know what colour eyes, how long the hair, how rough the beard, how retroussé the nose. And if a character is described as beautiful I hate her immediately and am jerked out of the story.)

I read one review where the movie was criticised for depicting the two protagonists having sex. Say what? I did not see any intimation of that at all. Sure, they get 'married' but this is an innocent movie, delightful and sweet and simple. So simple and so true to how kids have romances, or should have romances, these days.

I need to let it settle. My comparisons to Anderson's other movies did colour my response. There was none of the depth of Tenenbaum switching between adult and child perspectives; none of its humour either. There was no smartness of Steve Zissou. No adult POV therefore no adult angst or frustration or complicated emotion. This makes it all the more delicious; the focus is on the two kids, it's their movie and their story is unpolluted by all things grown up. The attention to detail is gorgeous and lush. The beach where they pitch their tent is a magical place of temporary sanctuary; their journey there and back and their clashes with the 'evil scouts' - what a wonderful movie. I felt it could have gone for another half hour but what would they have done with it? I suppose like the kids at the centre of it, I didn't want the magic to end.


Anonymous said...

Okay, so I haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom (though I would like to), so I'm going to focus on the flat character bit. Of course, I haven't read your manuscript and I don't know in what context the criticism was given, so I'm just going to state that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about and then jump in.

What you are describing doesn't sound to me like what I think of as a flat character. Being flat doesn't have anything to do with how much I know about the character or how much is spelled out. I can have the colour of their eyes, the texture of their beard, the retrousse-ness of their nose and some fantastic backstory and still think a character is completely flat. Alternatively, I can have none of that and think a character has amazing depth. It's not what I'm told about the character, it's how I see them behave. The things they do or say. Whether I have a sense of thought, feeling and motivation at play or if they seem more like a simple package of traits.

Of course there are times when you want a flat character, but I can't think of too many scenarios where you wouldn't want to use them sparingly. And, like I said, I haven't read your stuff, so I don't know what I'm talking about. But that's my two bob. Or whatever it's worth.

Melba said...

I'm going to see it again, taking Princess and her friend. After you've seen it would love to hear what you think.

Ah the flat characters - I agree with you and am heartened at your description Alex. You're right, it doesn't depend on how described a character is, it depends on how they reveal themselves through action mostly; also you can get a real sense of character in ways other than physical.

More of the context of the criticism - it was from a person who writes in what I think is an overblown way, characterisation is overdone, too much given, too much *told* rather than *shown*. Also I'm not taking it on board because no one else has ever said it about my writing, oh well there was another person in the same group who wanted more about a sack cloth smell, more about beard etc. It's not the way I 'do things' so I'm choosing to leave the feedback, not take it on other than to process and consider exactly what they mean.

I don't write commercial or genre stuff but they do...

I have the next group on Sunday, looking forward to it...

Anonymous said...

So, I had a big weekend at the cinema. Saw Looper, Expendables 2 and Moonrise Kingdom. All with Bruce Willis. It was a weekend of Willis. A Willis weekend. Anyway, I liked Moonrise Kingdom. Really liked it. But there was a couple of things that kept me from absolutely loving it. I'll get to that later.

Firstly, about the two protagonists having sex. You remember there's that scene where they're kissing and cuddling on the beach and he's touching her breast and she says she can feel his erection? Then, in the next shot, she's reading to him. Then, in the next shot, the two of them are sleeping together. I'm guessing some people have assume that sex was implied there. Personally, I thought it was strongly implied that there was no sex there.

Secondly, I didn't think the adult actors were wasted or underutilised at all. I thought their characters served the story appropriately. And I think that's how it should be, regardless of whether it's Tilda Swinton or some no-name in the role. On the other hand, you said you would've liked it to have gone for another half hour. I felt the same way.

Which brings me to my first major criticism.

I really liked having a world full of small and sort-of-pathetic characters, with two children sharing a love so precious and wonderful that by the end they're willing to die for it. Yeah, I thought that was neat. The problem is that while I got it on an intellectual level, I don't think there was enough time spent with just the two together to make me really really feel it. Y'know, deep down. And since I didn't really really feel it, it kind of made the stakes seem a little lower than they probably should have.

My second criticism might require a little bit of explanation. People complain about movies being unrealistic all the time. I don't think movies, or stories in general, should be realistic. And despite what they say, I don't think that many other people really do either. What a story needs is to establish its own reality early on and then be consistent to its own logic. I like Citizen Kane and I like Naked Gun, but I don't want a movie that swings from one to the other halfway through. I liked that this movie established its world very clearly, right from the opening shot. On top of that, I felt that the visual language of the film always stayed complementary to the story being told (I'm amazed by how many movies seem to completely lack this stuff these days). It was an eccentric and unreal world, but I felt like I understood it and was completely absorbed in it. Right up until the second time they ran away. After that, I felt like things became too absurd (surreal/unrealistic/unbelievable/pick your term) and then when Sam was struck by lightning, it was almost like it blew me completely out of the story. Which was a pain, because it meant that I was effectively disconnected during the film's climax. The little bit after the climax (the denouement?) won me back (loved that bit), but it couldn't fill the hole.

So yeah, a bit of a pity about those couple of things. But it was still a beautiful and beautifully made film and far and away the best thing I saw this weekend.

Melba said...

Yes Alex I know what you mean about the lightning strike. The first time I saw the film it too blew me away and seemed odd or out of place but then I realised that *nothing* was going to stop this duo. Not a biblical flood or being struck by lightning (I also realised that it was a coup de foudre - Sam's experience of seeing/loving Suzy. A flash of lightning or a thunderbolt.

I realise I can't remember exactly when Sam saw Suzy for the first time. He goes looking for her back-stage, pushes through that rack of beautifully-coloured costumes to see her dressed as a black raven. But has he seen her on stage before that? And then gone to find her?

My second viewing I did realise that the adults were on screen for more than I'd previously thought (something to do, perhaps, with Como Cinema offering an 'epic' pour of wine - talk about a bucket o' vin) and I also realised that I'd kind of blanked out a bit during some scenes in the first viewing, even though I was engrossed. (This doesn't make sense, I know.) (The epic bucket of wine?)

Your comments about the stakes are very interesting. Stakes are important for people to engage with characters. But do the stakes always need to be high?

So glad you liked it and it was better than the other Bruce movies during your Willis Weekend.

Anonymous said...

Not that I'd be taking advantage of it, but it's pretty decent of your cinema to offer wine as part of the refreshments. I remember when I was younger, carrying in hip flasks of whiskey and trying to inconspicuously empty them into the coke. An epic pour of a different kind, I suppose. These days I'm just stoked that I know the bloke at the cinema well enough that he gives me a free tea.

It's an interesting point about the lightning. I initially thought that the main purpose was just to set up the visual representation of the electricity when they kiss later on. But what you say about the unstoppable nature of Sam's love makes more sense. However, I still think it went too far outside the established bounds of reason. Perhaps it would have been better if there'd been something similarly absurd towards the start that worked as a point of reference?

On the question of when Sam first saw Suzy: From what I remember, there's a shot of the front of the building, followed by a shot of what's going on onstage (I don't remember seeing Suzy, but that doesn't mean she wasn't there), and then there's a shot of the scouts sitting in the pews with Sam looking -- like he'd just been hit by lightning. So yeah, I took that to mean that he'd seen her on stage and instantly felt it. On the other hand, the idea of the real thunderbolt, the way it was done, at that point in the story, being connected with the concept of love at first sight -- doesn't quite click for me.

Do stakes always have to be high? I don't think so. I've seen some cleverly written slice-of-life stuff that made low-stakes/no-stakes work. If you have a story that's based around exploration or has something other than conflict at the centre. I think there's a fair amount of erotica like that, too. But this was a story all about what was at stake. I really wanted to feel in the pit of my gut how horrible it would have been for their love to be lost. And it's not like that was missing altogether. I just think it needed a little more time to grow and sink in.

On a related note, I don't think it's important that the stakes are high in an objective sense, so much that they have to feel high. That trashy erotic thing I read a little while back; it was very literally a "fate of the Earth hangs in the balance" type story, and yet I didn't feel like that part of it was in any way important. On the other end of the spectrum, a skillful writer can make a child losing a doll feel like the end of the world.

Melba said...

Oh Alex I had to PAY for the bucket of wine.

Thanks for your comments re high stakes etc. It is all very helpful to me with my writing, working this stuff out. Let me know if there's anything I can do in return but I'm not very good at science or politics.

Anonymous said...

I guessed that you had to pay for your tipple, but I was comparing it to my local (and the cinemas I have frequented in the past) that doesn't allow booze. You have to get sloshed out in the lounge area before you go in.

Also, you helped me heaps when I was having that geek feminist moral crisis a ways back, so don't worry about that.

And I'd love to have a read of some of your stuff at some point. I'm not, like, trying to pressure you into showing it to me or anything. I'm just saying I would, if you did.

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