Moonrise and Marigold

7 Jun

I’ve never understood why the summer is so bereft of entertainment when it seems we need it most…

– Comment from a friend in a recent email exchange

Funny thing, my friend’s comment, because for decades, summer has indeed been the season that the big movie studios have considered ground zero for so-called popcorn escapist fare though that was not always necessarily the case. Nonetheless, the phenomenal successes of Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) forever changed the playing ground for successful summer programming. That doesn’t have to be bad thing necessarily when the movies are well-executed–which, of course, is entirely subjective.  Even so, over time, this trend has gotten, well, a tad repetitive. I don’t want to knock comic-book movies in general, but, really, why so many? The suits will tell you that in an ever-increasingly global society, these are the kinds of movies that perform well overseas: elaborate visual effects and high octane action sequences translate into any language. That’s the rationale, I assure you. Please keep in mind, too, that America is no longer the only market in town. Indeed, many big-budget action blockbusters earn more money overseas than in the states, which is why more and more of them, including Marvel’s The Avengers, Battleship, and Prometheus,  are opening elsewhere first.  What’s scary to me, besides the added surcharge for 3-D flicks (thereby artificially pumping ticket sales for such flicks), is that even though the heroes thwart the bad guys in the end, often setting up a sequel in the process, ( I digress), it seems the message is really gloom, doom, and destruction, and that’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment. Plus, I get it: I sound old if I complain that these movies are played at a pitch that can best be described as thundering; meanwhile, why do so many of these “entertainments” all seem like over-produced video games? Again, the suits will tell you that they’re just having to compete with a whole generation of moviegoers with ADD (attention deficit order) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Of course, those same suits fail to acknowledge their own culpability in perpetrating such a seemingly unavoidable trend though, of course, the answer is really more simple than even they might care to offer. Why do so many movies seem like video games? Well, because they are likely a springboard for an actual video game–that and/or a theme park attraction. Why can’t a movie just be a movie? Oh, I forgot: corporate greed.

In other news, after only 5 weeks in release, The Avengers is now poised at the number three spot on the domestic list of all-time biggest grossers. Really? In only 5 weeks it did that?

Meanwhile, despite all the box office buzz for the  high profile films,  a smaller, quirkier film has been making quite a splash as well. For the past two weeks, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom has boasted the highest per screen averages in the country, which means that while other movies are making more money overall, Anderson’s film is selling more tickets per theatre than some of the blockbusters. For example, Snow White and the Huntsman (last weekend’s big new hit) opened on over 3,000 screens and averaged approximately $15,000 per screen for the three day period; meanwhile,  Moonrise Kingdom has only been playing in well less than a hundred theaters all across the country. In its first week, it was only playing in 4 theatres, presumably in New York and LA. That weekend, it pulled in almost $131,000 per theatre. The second week, it jumped to 16 theatres and earned $54,000 per screen.  Nice.

Moonrise at Cannes (l-r) Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Jared Gilman, Tilda Swinton, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis (not pictured: Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Can you believe it’s been 14 years since Anderson “discovered” the then 18 year old Schwartzman and cast him as the lead in Rushmore? Moonrise Kingdom is their fourth feature film together.

I’m not an unabashed fan of Texas native Anderson’s work. I generally can either take it or leave it though I loved 1998’s Rushmore–and was pleasantly surprised by his stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).  I think Moonrise Kingdom is a gem–better even than what the trailer might suggest. It’s a slight variation on Romeo and Juliet set in 1965, complete with a knockout cast of well-known vets  (Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, and Bruce Willis along with Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman), plus two bright young stars (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), and Anderson’s trademark off-kilter humour and a strong visual sensibility that can perhaps best be described as “Storybook Post-Modernism.”  I was stunned to read that Anderson, working with his usual cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, shot the whole thing using Super 16. Wow! It looks marvelous. I can easily imagine this one as an Oscar contender come early next year. I wonder how it will fare once it eventually goes into wide release. If you’re a fan of retro-cool Mad Men, and you’ve enjoyed the budding near romance between Sally (Don’s daughter), and Glen, you should make a beeline to the closest theatre playing Moonrise Kingdom.

Another movie that’s holding its own remarkably well in this summer’s sweepstakes is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I like to describe as something akin to a trip to India with all the color and none of the hassles and/or unpleasantries of international travel (not the least of which would be, well, the stench).  Directed by John Madden, of 1998’s Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love (not the sports announcer), the movie plays like a cross between, say, 2010’s Letters to Juliet (with a to-die-for performance by Vanessa Redgrave) and the same year’s Eat Pray Love.  The sterling cast includes such vets as Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, along with Dev Patel (one of the best things about the otherwise overrated 2008 Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire); all give smartly etched performances–and I don’t say that lightly. I’m not always such a fan of Dench, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, though I was blown away by her in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal. Normally, I reserve a particularly unflattering nickname for her…you can find a hint of said name toward the end of the first sentence in this paragraph.  Anyway, I don’t know if this ensemble piece will still be remembered come awards time, but that does not make it any less worthy of consideration. The cinematography, btw, is credited to Ben Davis (whose résumé include 2005’s  Imagine Me & You), and the music is by the great Thomas Newman (the 10 time Oscar nominee–and no wins–whose filmography includes Little Women and American Beauty).

^ Kudos to Maggie Smith. The 77 year old, two time Oscar winner is currently enjoying great success on the big screen in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and on television with the BBC import Downton Abbey. Smith won a well deserved Best Actress Oscar for 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and then snagged Best Supporting Actress for 1978’s California Suite (in which she played an Oscar nominated actress). Her other nominations include Travels with My Aunt (Best Actress, 1972), and three nods for Best Supporting Actress (Othello, 1965; A Room with a View, 1986, and Gosford Park, 2001, written by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, who, of course, created Downton Abbey).

Also, just to further illustrate the point that not everyone is looking for “action, action, action,”  please consider that this film, in which most of the big name cast consist of performers in their 60s (at least), was #6 at the box office last weekend, which is more than “not bad” given that it is only playing on 1300 screens (give or take); moreover, it’s been in the top 10 ever since its second week in release when it expanded from 27 theatres to 178. Most impressive, indeed.

I’m sure there are cynics out there who will argue that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actually advocates colonialism as the Brits somehow “fix” what the people of India seem to not be able to do for themselves, but I think that’s a rather narrow interpretation. What I see is a movie that shows how globalization fosters understanding between cultures and that learning to do so can be win-win if everybody sacrifices/gains something in the process. These people–on “both sides”–need each other, and I think that it’s okay to admit we need things from other people sometimes. Who wants to watch a movie in which people are entirely self-sufficient? Also, to contrast this movie to, say, A Passage to India (either the original text by E.M. Forster or the acclaimed 1984 film adaptation by David Lean), the difference seems to be that in the earlier work, the situation appears hopeless: the English colonialists and the Indian natives will never be able to co-exist. The Best Marigold refutes this by not privileging one group over the other.

This is just “talk.” Go see the movie…

Thanks for your consideration…

All figures:  Box Office Mojo – http://www.boxofficemojo.com

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