Saturday, June 16, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is about two kids who fall in love and runaway from their homes on a small island off the coast of New England. Sam, a Khaki Scout, runs away from his troop. Suzy runs away from her younger brothers and their lawyer parents. Fugitives, they plan on surviving together in the wilderness. Soon, everyone on the island is looking for them.

This film takes place in the 1960's and is also made to look like it was filmed in the sixties. The fonts, opening credits, and slightly grainy film set the tone for the movie. The sets, costumes, and music also put the audience comfortably into this time period.

The cast is a bottomless list of talent. Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Edward Norton (Fight Club), Bill Murray (What About Bob?), and Frances McDormand (Fargo) play the leading adults. The kids are played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. Relatively unknown, these child actors fit their roles perfectly.

Director Wes Anderson tells the story in unique and quirky ways. I was particularly impressed by the long continuous shots in the beginning of the film. Anderson also co-wrote the film with Roman Coppola, son of Francis-Ford Coppola (The Godfather). The theme, that love can and will overcome great adversity, is well-known, but still relatable. It also bends genres to combine drama, comedy, adventure, and romance.

I don't think I could say anything bad about this movie even if I tried. This is the best film I've seen in theatres so far this year. Speaking of theatres, it's playing at The Tivoli on Delmar, one of my favorite places. Everything is better when you watch it at the Tivoli. Especially Moonrise Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Evil Henchmen - An Appreciation

Stormtroopers are a perfect example.
A while ago, I started thinking about bad guys in movies. Not the antagonist, but his minions. They fascinate me. For starters, I wondered how they always get so many minions. Do they post ads in the paper? Kidnap guys off the street? Is there some dark part of Craigslist for henchmen? Or do they just have an army of clones, like Darth does? In most cases, this is never explained.

Then I started to view henchmen from a filmmaker's perspective. They're awesome. I discovered three specific traits of evil henchmen that are particularly cool in my mind.

Budget. If I'm making a violent movie, a lot of bad guys will need to be sacrificed. That means hiring a lot of extras. But if I use the evil henchmen approach, they will all wear full-body uniforms. This way, I can make twenty uniforms and have the same guys play them in every scene. I can hire one actor to die four times on screen.

Audience morality. If your audience is mostly normal, they probably have a conscience. And, if they're mostly normal, they're not a huge of fan of murder. When you're protagonist gets a little trigger happy, he can start to look like a bad guy. But if the audience doesn't see the face of his victim, it's not so big a deal. Let's use Star Wars as an example. The Empire's stormtroopers have their faces covered. They don't seem very human so I don't relate to them. But the rebel soldiers have their faces exposed. I see that they're human and I connect with that. I don't want to see them die.

German army around 1939. Not actually communists, but you get the idea.
Lastly, communism. When everything looks the same, it's scary. Like this example on the right. When everything is exactly the same, it reminds us of communism and 1984 and stuff. You hear that voice in the back of your head whispering "assimilate." Uniformed henchmen have that effect on people.

Next time you're watching some totally awesome movie, think about the henchmen. They're a big part of some films and we often take them for granted.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Snow White & the Huntsman

When a story is really good, it gets told over and over again. Grimm's Snow White is one of those stories. The most notable version is definitely Disney's 1937 animated movie. But, like most Disney movies, they took out all of the excitingly brutal murders and scary parts. Thankfully, Snow White & the Huntsman has kept all of the good parts.

Often times in live-action fairy tales, a little humor is added to lighten up the story a bit. There is no humor in this film and it's awesomely dark. Much of this is due to Charlize Theron's part as the queen. She plays the role like she was born for it. She makes the queen as cruel as Adolf Hitler and as sexy as... well, Charlize Theron. Kristen Stewart is obviously making up for bad-ass moments she missed while making Twilight movies. This Snow White is not a damsel in distress, she's a warrior leading a revolution. This is a very empowering movie for women.

The special effects are not only impressively real, but abstract. My favorite example of this is the mirror. He appears as a man completely draped in a thick cloth that is the gold mirror itself. Other great effects include the queen becoming a murder of crows, shattering soldiers made of rock shards, and a troll (one of my favorite parts).

Like many fantasy movies, this one has a lot of strong symbolism. The queen wears all black and so does her army and Snow rides a white horse. Although these things sound stupid and a little obvious, they help build the mythology of the fairy tale. These things, as well as the awesome scenery, make the movie visually-stunning.

Everyone will like this movie. It has fighting, beautiful people of both sexes, a love interest, and a troll. Parents, show your kids how Snow White is supposed to be. Kids, learn how Disney tries to sugar-coat everything. And women, be empowered by everything in this movie.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Childish Gambino @ The Pageant

Photo courtesy of Keegan DeJong
I wouldn't want to be the opener at a sold out Childish Gambino show, but somebody's got to do it. Chance the Rapper, a fairly unknown artist, came off as rather young and naive. He had a DJ on stage with him, but the tracks being played still had Chance's vocals on them. This turned the entire performance into a glorified sing-along. His flow was off and he was missing most of the words. Even when he got it right, it was too slurred to hardly be understood. He also does this weird thing where he goes "byahahahh" all the time. Like this (listen from 0:10 - 0:20). He didn't impress me at all.

Finally, Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover; AKA Troy Barnes from Community) took the stage. He had a full band with him: guitar, bass, drums, keys, and a laptop. They opened with "Outside" quickly followed by "Firefly," the first two tracks off Camp, his first official LP release. His flow was just as tight as the album, never missing a beat. He performed most of his hits, including material going all the way back to 2010's Culdesac mixtape.

The stage set up was very simple. There were a few trees on stage to set the camp atmosphere. The lights were few, but they were used well. The large screen behind him was used in several different ways depending on the song. It was used for still photos, graphics, lyrics, and video. All of the lyrics always matched up with the screen exactly.

The encore was really something. It included one of the very recent singles from his website ("some new shit," as he called it), two freestyles, and a currently unreleased song. The crowd was engaged the entire time. When he said "throw your hands up," no one even questioned it.

This concert only proved to me the truth in Gambino's music. His lyrics are often about overcoming adversity. Despite all of the troubles in his life, he has still managed to become a successful musician, actor, and comedian. Today, influential music sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum don't like him at all. Even with them working against him, he produced an incredible sold out show. To me, that is the real awesomeness of Childish Gambino and it's a message everyone can relate to.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


The simplest possible explanation for Rubber is that it's a movie about a tire that can blow stuff up. That's what I was expecting when I started watching it on Netflix. I quickly discovered that it was much, much more than that.

Yes, this 2010 film is really about a tire killing people using psycho-kinetic powers. However, there is a group of people in the desert with binoculars. They watch the tire in real life as though it were a movie. They make comments about it and ask each other questions. One of them is played by Charley Koontz, known for his portrayal of Fat Neil on Community. The sheriff trying to find the tire knows that he's in a movie, but nobody else does. It's one of the most unique plots I've ever seen.

You might be asking yourself, "why would anyone make a movie about a scary tire?" The answer is, "no reason." In the opening scene, the sheriff explains this to the audience. He gives examples of movies that are based on things without reason. "Why is the alien in E.T. brown? Why do the couple in Love Story fall in love? No reason." He goes on to explain that this is because life itself is filled with "no reasons." He tells the audience (characters in the movie) that the film they're about to watch is a celebration of life's "no reasons."

The cinematography is amazing. The desert looks crisp and beautiful on screen. The acting is perfect and so are the special effects. This sounds stupid, but I'm still not sure how they got the tire to move the way that it did. It's movements were terrifyingly natural.

In all honesty, this is probably one of my new favorite movies. I'm going to be looking out for more films by Quentin Dupieux. Everything comes together in a way that's simultaneously expected and shocking. It's completely weird and spectacular.