Moonrise Kingdom: Every time Wes Anderson releases a movie, which thankfully has been with greater relative frequency than his fellow class-of-late-90s auteurs (P.T. Anderson, Spike Jonze, Alexander Payne), I read about how it’s just as calibrated and composed and Wes Anderson-y as ever, because I guess the greatest suspense in his career at this point has to do with whether he’s going to suddenly abandon his personal style and make the stripped-down, unfunny, perhaps kitchen-sinky indie movie that clearly every interesting, stylish director of comedies should suppress his or her instincts to make. Then again, Moonrise Kingdom, which so far seems to be scoring some of the best reviews of Anderson’s post-Rushmore career, may mark a turning point after which at least some people realize expecting a major stylistic change-up from Anderson is about as likely as Alfonso Cuaron deciding to indulge in smash-and-grab fast cutting.
This sort of understanding is exactly what I appreciate about Nicolas Rapold’s L Mag review: rather than wringing more hands about whether Anderson makes movies that are too hermetic and glassed-in, it considers Moonrise in relation to Anderson’s other films and on its own themes, visual schemes, and effectiveness. I haven’t seen Moonrise yet, but if you look at Anderson’s other films, you’ll find variations within his precise style: the jarring violence of The Life Aquatic, the formal challenges of shooting on a moving train in The Darjeeling Limited, and replicating a particular filmmaking style in animation, a medium so often used for team efforts, aesthetically speaking. I like that this one is getting a Memorial Day weekend berth, a tacit admittance that: (a.) giving his movies fall prestige-picture slots is silly because they’re not really Oscar bait and (b.) for a particular demographic with particular tastes, this is a massive summer movie.
Men in Black 3: They somehow avoided subtitling this movie Aw Hell No, though they have taken to using the subtitle from Teenage Mutant Turtles III as a tagline (the characters are back dot dot dot IN TIME!), lending a subtle hint of creakiness… well, actually, no, you can probably hear the creaks from a thousand yards away. The well-worn (and often bet-hedging) Will Smith persona, along with the well-documented production difficulties in making a Men in Black movie, make the prospect of Men in Black sequel seem far more lumbering and unwieldy behemoth than it should be.
Recall that the first Men in Black, when it came out in the summer of 1997, was a breezy summer movie romp, closer in spirit to Ghostbusters than, say, Battleship, and acting as a more (financially) successful counterpart to the previous summer’s Independence Day than the other alien-invasion ’96 spectacular (Mars Attacks!—which, really, was probably about as expensive and indulgent as a Men in Black movie, albeit more devilish and pleasingly bizarre). Instead of an epic disaster movie aping everything in sight, it delivered deadpan laughs and sight gags in a crisp package of ninetysomething minutes, wrapped by the actually-kind-of-underrated Barry Sonnenfeld. Even in Men in Black II, ten years ago, wasn’t so much a gigantic cash-wasting machine (though I’m sure it was that) as an uninspired 88-minute retread. I saw it, and I can barely tell you a thing about what happens in it—though its final shot of a train station locker (supposedly Grand Central, but, you know, no lockers there, etc.) revealing an entire world of its own does stick in my mind. The shame of Men in Black II wasn’t in its blockbuster hollowness (though, again, it did have that) so much as the entire team’s inability to reproduce something that seems ideal for an ongoing film series: a brisk comic sci-fi adventure pairing the stoic Jones with the wisecracking Smith, plus crazy aliens. It just felt listless in that 80s-sequel sort of way, only it’s not nearly as funny as Ghostbusters II.
Men in Black III involves, as the Ninja Turtles tagline suggests, time travel, which to me suggests it won’t help but feel a bit more engaged and sprightly than its predecessor (I just love time travel stories), though similar tales of budget overruns, script underfinishes, and general production sloppiness persist. Hopefully this is the franchise’s last chance: if you can’t figure out a way to make amusing, enjoyable Men in Black sequels, you don’t deserve the money you’ll inevitably make from Men in Black sequels no matter how lazy they are.
I’m not sure if Smith, Sonnenfeld, Sony, etc., should be worried or relieved that a couple of big-budget May movies have run smack into The Avengers like it was a brick wall; turns out Marvel made a movie big enough to steamroll less exciting options, but that steamroller is heading into its fourth weekend, and at some point, audiences may want to go see something else. Maybe not this weekend, maybe not next weekend, but sometime before Dark Knight Rises. In the meantime: Will Smith on a holiday weekend! People used to do that all the time, right?
Chernobyl Diaries: OK, on its own, this horror movie looks relatively standard issue, if creepier than some of its genre-mates. But behind the scenes, there’s at least some confusing weirdness of interest: as the trailer informs us, the movie has a connection to Oren Peli, the fellow behind Paranormal Activity and, as such, the found-footage horror craze. But Chernobyl Diaries, while seemingly easy to adapt to the found-footage format, is (from the looks of it) a traditional horror movie (though I assume characters will pick up a camcorder at some point). And Peli didn’t direct it; he writing and producing credits.
The other credited writers? Shane and Carey Van Dyke, the grandsons of Dick Van Dyke who have until now toiled in the presumably lucrative direct-to-DVD-knockoff-of-blockbuster-movie industry, having, between the two of them, written and/or directed Transmorphers: The Fall of Man, The Day the Earth Stopped, Street Racer (not sure if this was meant to capitalize on Speed Racer in particular or Fast/Furious movies in general), and, hey, Paranormal Entity… a Paranormal Activity knockoff which, by the way, my teenage cousin-in-law assures me is way cooler than Paranormal Activity itself (no word from him on how The Day the Earth Stopped compares to either version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. But come on: stopped! That’s gold!). Maybe Oren Peli agreed, or at least thought this could be the most efficient way of getting the Van Dyke boys to quit copyin’ him. This could start a disturbing trend of direct-to-disc hacks training to make the semi-real thing. Just kidding; it will probably just start a disturbing trend of me trying to think of additional knockoff titles (The Revengers! Shadowy Darkness! Fightership! Men in Black Sunglasses! Snow White and the Hunter! Someone pay me to write all of these!).