Moonrise Kingdom Review (Nadia Sandhu)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis

Directed by Wes Anderson

I worry for Wes Anderson, I really do.  With the spectacular decline in originality that has befallen Tim Burton, that other uber-stylized auteur of our times, one can’t help but wonder when Wes Anderson’s day will come.

Those thoughts are quickly put aside as Moonrise Kingdom sweeps viewers along on a surprisingly fast-paced journey through impending adolescence in 1965 New England.  What is at first glance a simple tale of young lovers against the world seamlessly interweaves at least five other related subplots with surprisingly well realized character arcs.

The film opens on Suzy.  Suzy lives in a doll house and her family dynamics and interactions are filmed exactly that way – by removing the outer wall.  Despite her family strife, Robert Yeoman’s 16mm cinematography imbues the story with a warm fuzziness – just like our own memories of youth.  Suzy’s knight in khaki armor, Sam, has concocted an elaborate scheme to whisk her away from her unhappy home, and as it turns out, his own tragic tale of woe.

Moonrise Kingdom continues to dominate the “specialty box office”‘ and rightly so. The performances from our young leads, Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy), are superb, and Edward Norton’s charming dufus scout leader steals every scene he’s in.

This is an uncomplicated film and while our young lovers Suzy and Sam sound cynical, there is an optimism in their faith that true love will conquer all- even if the lovers are just 12 years old.  And that’s the thing, whether it is loneliness, abandonment, neglect or betrayal, true love really does conquer all in this film.

I dare you not to think back on your first innocent forays into love.

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Brave Review (Nadia Sandhu)

Brave (2012)

Starring (voices) – Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, and Craig Ferguson

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell

Brave is a big surprise.  The Pixar produced and Disney distributed film is a story about mothers and daughters.  There is no handsome Prince, but there is a Princess, a Queen, magic and a pesky witch.  Oh and some bears.

Pixar films are technically wondrous but can lack the warmth of the animated Disney Classics. With Brave they have finally broken that barrier. The film delivers a personal story and not, as the trailers seemed to suggest, Braveheart with a warrior princess.

Our protagonist Princess Merida boasts an intricately animated mane that would make Rapunzel jealous.  Merida is a tomboy and a rebel and doesn’t show any signs of wanting to grow up.  While her father King Fergus indulges her, mother Queen Elinor tries to teach her responsibility and constantly admonishes her to be a lady.  Tensions ensue, particularly when Merida is faced with having to do her royal duty and keep the kingdom together.

The plot twists into unexpected territory here – for good and bad depending on one’s personal tastes, but it is refreshing nonetheless.  Too many modern heroines are all “girl power” and not much else.  Merida is a far better realized character, growing and maturing before our very eyes, and this is probably why the ending strikes such a false note.  One suspects the resolution is more a result of pandering to modern tastes rather than organic growth in the characters.

Nevertheless, credit goes to the script which truly captures the incredible complexity and tensions that characterize the mother-daughter dynamic, however fantastical the yarn gets.  Brave sticks to a far more timeless storytelling style than most animated features today, with the now staple contemporary wise cracking of  supporting characters kept to a minimum, and thankfully so.  Not only do these jokes strike discordant notes that pull viewers out of the story,  they ultimately serve to date these films far before their time.

It will be particularly interesting to see how the film is received and reviewed internationally.  Set in Medieval Scotland and clearly created with Western sensibilities in mind, the film has nonetheless harnessed some universal themes.  I am South Asian, and the tensions between familial duty and individual desire resonated particularly well.  I swear I’ve had the same confrontations with my own Mother.

Is the story for everyone?  No.  The second half falls apart a little for anyone that doesn’t care for (wo)man vs. beast, but ultimately this is an emotionally authentic film and worth a visit to the local cineplex.

Take your Moms.

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The Great 35mm Debate: Christopher Nolan is Being a Hypocrite (Nadia Sandhu)

A tried and true mantra in the fanboy universe is “In Nolan We Trust.” I’m not so sure he is quite as deserving of that faith as I was just a week ago. Last weekend at the Produced By Conference, director Christopher Nolan continued his anti-digital crusade. You can read about it here, here, and here. Beneath the sweeping statements that indicted distributors and exhibitors who project HIS films in digital formats, is a disingenuous yarn he’s spun about his own filmmaking and indeed the filmmaking process in general.

At the heart of the matter is a conflation of two separate and distinct issues: filming in 35mm and projecting in 35mm.  This two-part piece will tackle these one by one.

Part 1: Nolan Doth Protest Too Much

Nolan shoots in 35mm. Guess what? His films, like many big budget studio films, are converted from film to digital for CGI and other “post” work.  Watch the trailer of the Dark Knight Rises. Nolan is no stranger to this digitization process, look at the collapsing stadium sequence.  Was that CGI or EAC (extremely advanced claymation)?  Nolan seems to have conveniently glossed over this important part of his own filmmaking process.

Once the film is digital, it is digital. Transferring the print back to film does not suddenly impart some magical additional depth, and Nolan’s comments seem to count on a general unawareness of this fact to bolster his status as a 35mm crusader.

Need more evidence? Check out the official press release about the nifty digital post-conversion work being done on the Dark Knight Rises to an all IMAX format for digital projection on IMAX screens across North America.

Film, as we understand it and love it, is not the chemical process of developing an image.  It’s telling a story.  The last time I checked, an unprocessed reel of 35mm does not tell stories. If he’s such a purist, where is Nolan’s outrage that cinephiles are being subjected to this digital experience of his film? I don’t see him demanding that screens be pulled in the name of his art, especially given what he apparently thinks of digital projection.  Hmmmm.  More on that later.

The fact is the only danger to Mr. Nolan’s film use is a rapidly diminishing physical film supply. With Kodak in Chapter 11 and both Kodak and Fuji Film cutting back production of the physical stock, film itself is increasingly becoming a scarce and therefore ever more costly commodity. It is simple supply and demand economics.  Our mass adoption of cell phone cameras and digital recorders has effectively squeezed the bottom lines of film manufacturers. So contrary to what Nolan contends, this at least is not some vast conspiracy against 35mm film making per se.

The trouble with this reality is that most film makers don’t have the luxury of passing this cost on to a studio as Nolan freely admits he can and does.

Nolan’s comments come from a place of concern that matters of commerce are being put before the art (as defined by the use of 35mm apparently). It’s rather easy to slag filmmakers, and in particular “less-than-Nolan’s-craft-budget” filmmakers, when he doesn’t actually have to pony up his own money. Emerging filmmakers by and large shoot on digital because it makes financial sense to the starving artist. And they either incur the costs themselves or are answerable to investors directly, many of whom are friends, family, or business acquaintances.

What really bothers me is his statement that “I don’t have any interest in being the research department for an electronics company”.  He makes CGI movies; the quality of the CGI can be directly correlated to the quality and speed of electronics and their programming. You can bet that his own pioneering techniques will be replicated in film and video gaming for years to come. It is a particularly damning statement when you consider that it was made while shilling for Kodak.  Why else would he be invited to express these views at a panel sponsored by that beleaguered film company?

Disappointing.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Is Nolan a Pretentious 35mm Snob?

The Great 35mm Debate is a new ongoing series exclusively on Entertainment Maven.

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Rock of Ages Review (Nadia Sandhu)

Rock of Ages (2012)

Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, and Tom Cruise

Directed by Adam Shankman

Rock on Tommy!

I really wanted to like Rock of Ages – and that might be the problem.   Tom Cruise, 80s Rock, REO Speedwagon?  I was so there.  But that Julianne Hough person ruined the whole damn movie along with her accomplice – the playback chick who does Britney Spears’ auto-tuned singing.

Tom Cruise is the best thing about this film, with his Axel Rose homage and Michael Jackson style pet monkey.  Mary J. Blige gets props too.  But why oh why did Hough have to be inserted  into every single song?  And who thought this girl could carry a movie? Particularly when the far superior Malin Akerman was also cast?  I can’t help but wonder if Taylor Swift might not have been better suited to Hough’s lead role (no, really).

I know this is a musical, but what happened to the dialogue?  Where was it?!  We exist in a post-Glee world, but how can a musical go so terribly, soullessly wrong?  Music is universal people!  Where was the emotion?  Carry the audience away dammit.  Aside from that over-played, over-inflated Journey song, all the tracks were hacked off just when they got going.

And Russell Brand – I will never forgive you for raping my happy song.  NEVER.  My eyes are still bleeding mate.

So many questions.  So many negative emotions.  THE disappointment of the summer. Hands down.

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ChickFlicking – Snow White and the Huntsman a ChickFlick? (Nadia Sandhu)

True Drunk’s First Kiss (Snow White and the Huntsman? Total Chick Flick)

Yes, the title of this article kind of has a spoiler in it. But only kind of, so please let us move on.

What stands out to me about this retelling of the classic fairytale is just how little of it is re-imagined from the original Grimm source material.  The biggest deviation is probably whose first kiss wakes Snow from her apple induced coma (hint- he’s a drunk).  Basically what I am saying to all you boys out there is this: you been had broSnow White and the Huntsman is a straight up chick flick – and not the most satisfying one at that.

A queen pricks her finger, spilling three drops of blood, prompting her to wish she had a daughter with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony… check, check, check, check.  The Hunstman falls for Snow?  Yep.  Handsome Prince?  Well he’s a future Duke, but he’s still there.  Mirror on the Wall?  Present and accounted for.  Dwarves?  Oh boy are there dwarves.

Charlize Theron is our Evil Queen and she is still gloriously vain, if a little hysterical.  That pesky meddling mirror still causes all this trouble with his “fairest of them all” nonsense.  Our mirror seems to think that Kirsten Stewart somehow fits the bill, and I understand that legions of teen girls agree. #KanyeShrug.

If anything, the film just fleshes out the broad strokes of the modern Disney version – what happens when Snow awakes and her kingdom needs reclaiming?

Birds love Snow White.  Animals love Snow White.  Everyone loves Snow White.  So when the little sprites led her to the magical white elk, I thought we were in for some “when plants attack” kind of military assault on the Evil Queen.  But alas, looks like the CGI budget did not allow for a Lord of the Rings style epic storming of the castle and that is the real shame here.

Our vain Queen will go to any length to preserve her youthful beauty, the source of her magical powers in a male dominated world, and she is resentful of the new young thing.  This is classic bitchy stuff.  And it is also an ill concealed metaphor for sex appeal as a woman’s weapon – something I had somehow not realized was a major theme of this fairytale, alongside the more obvious fear of the new, the next, and your own obsolescence.

Having finally made this connection, I found myself reflecting on how much things haven’t really changed since medieval times.  Sex still sells and all too many ladies in our social media driven, narcissistic world define their self-worth by youth and beauty.

So yes, file this one under “Chick Flick”. And take a moment to admire Chris Hemsworth, who continues to impress. I’ll give this one a mercy pass. Catch it on DVD/VOD, if only for the obvious Star Wars homage at the end (that was intentional, right?)

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