The Royal Tenenbaums (11/15/12)

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The Royal Tenenbaums is the story of a family brought back together by their ailing, estranged patriarch.

The young Tenenbaum children are all prodigies; Chas is business savvy, Margot, who was adopted, wrote a successful play, and Richie is a tennis star. Their parents, Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston), are getting a divorce. Twenty two years later, Royal is getting evicted from his hotel room where he has been staying. After hearing that his wife’s accountant, Harry (Danny Glover) is trying to marry Etheline, Royal devises a plan and says he is dying of cancer and wants to stay in their house and reunite the family. As adults, the children are all in post-success slumps. Chas (Ben Stiller), is still in business but has become obsessively protective over his sons after their mother’s death. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), is married to a neurologist named Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) but hides her life from him. Richie (Luke Wilson) had a breakdown as a tennis star.

When a film has a huge ensemble cast, it is easy for the plot to get lost in the mix but Wes Anderson not only keeps the characters unique and interesting in The Royal Tenenbaums, but the plot is one of his best too. Each character has their own cross to bear and when they are under the same roof again, their stories are interesting on their own, but together they become something special. Admittedly, there is a lot to take in and some of the quirk that is special to Anderson’s films may put some people off but I would argue that The Royal Tenenbaums is possibly Anderson’s most accessible film.

I watched The Royal Tenenbaums again after watching Moonrise Kingdom for a second time and when viewed back-to-back, the films are actually very different in some respects, though both very Anderson-y. Where Moonrise Kingdom cranks the ’60s nostalgia and colors all the way up, The Royal Tenenbaums is brightly colored but also kind of washed out. The Royal Tenenbaums feels more realistic but also has many of the same fantastical things that Anderson is known for. The Royal Tenenbaums is clearly intended for adults but Moonrise Kingdom would likely be enjoyable for young teens and adults for different reasons.

It’s difficult to speak of Wes Anderson’s films since he has crafted such a unique “formula” for his work. While, at times, this style can be a bit too much or get in the way of the storytelling, but The Royal Tenenbaums is more of a character story with great, innovative set pieces and shots. That’s not to say that The Royal Tenenbaums is a serious film, it’s actually quite funny, but the camp aspect is scaled back a bit.

The Royal Tenenbaums was recently released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection and is an improved package over the DVD edition they also put out. The special features remain the same, but they are spectacular for fans of Anderson’s work. The commentary and behind the scenes footage are worth it alone, but the set offers much more. The picture and sound are both spectacular, as expected.

The Royal Tenenbaums was my favorite Wes Anderson film before Moonrise Kingdom came out. I had a guy stop me in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago asking my opinion of the movies he was holding. He had Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums in his hand and said he had never seen a Wes Anderson movie before. I gave my brief impressions of each and asked which sounded the best to him, he picked Rushmore and I went along with it but urged him to check out Moonrise Kingdom if he liked it. If I had seen the blu-ray presentation of The Royal Tenenbaums before that conversation, however, I would likely have steered him differently.

I give it 4 Mordecais out of 5.

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Little Shop of Horrors (10/16/12)

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In Little Shop of Horrors, a man finds a mysterious plant that becomes a huge sensation but has a unique appetite.

Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is a nerdy man working in a small, failing flower shop alongside the owner, Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia), and the woman he secretly fancies, Audrey (Ellen Greene). One day, after an unexpected solar eclipse, Seymour finds a strange little plant  and dubs it Audrey II. After they decide to put Audrey II in the window of the shop, the little plant draws a huge crowd. The plant soon gets sick and starts wilting and Seymour finds the plant has a taste for blood. When the plant grows too large for sucking on Seymour’s pricked fingers, Seymour learns that Audrey II can talk and it is demanding more than just a few drops of blood.

Although Little Shop of Horrors is kind of a remake of the 1960 Roger Corman film of the same title, this 1986 version is actually the film version of the off-Broadway musical. Director Frank Oz, who worked as a puppeteer with Jim Henson, captures both the comedy and horror – as well as the music – in a brilliant mix. Oz’s background in puppeteering makes Audrey II really shine, and even close to 20 years after its release, the effects still look pretty great.

However, the stars of Little Shop of Horrors for me not the effects but are actually the cameos; We have Christopher Guest, Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray, and Jim Belushi all making guest appearances. Since Bill Murray is a god, he pretty much makes every film a masterwork. Considering my general distaste of musicals, Little Shop of Horrors has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. The songs are fun, funny, unique, and catchy. My wife, who had never seen Little Shop of Horrors before, and I were both still singing Skid Row a week after watching it. The voice work for Audrey II was done by musician Levi Stubbs, who has such a unique voice that gives the man-eating plant a Motown swagger that is both hilarious, menacing, and fun to listen to.

Little Shop of Horrors has been a favorite of mine since I was young and though I hadn’t seen it in far too long, I still remembered much of the music and admittedly “got” more of the humor as an adult. The film has held up better than I expected, actually. The recently released blu-ray gives this film the love it deserves and even includes the cut, original ending. Little Shop of Horrors is still a unique film experience (where else can you find a musical about a man-eating plant?) and the music will likely get your toes tapping.

I give it 5 “Feed Me, Seymour”s out of 5.

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Moonrise Kingdom (7/4/12) & (11/14/12)

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Set in New England in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two young lovers that don’t fit in with others and decide to run away together as the rest of the island sets out in search of them.

At the khaki scout camp, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), they discover a scout has escaped. The scout is young Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and we learn that he has run away from camp to be with his love, a young girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Suzy lives on the island with her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and younger brothers but doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Suzy and Sam had met several years prior and had remained in touch via letter. After the two run away, the entire khaki scout camp, the Bishops, policeman (Bruce Willis), and other set out to rescue the young lovers.

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the most stylistic movies I’ve ever seen, even more than Wes Anderson’s other films. The color palette is heavy on yellows and browns but everything still feels campy and awesome. I have long found Anderson’s work to be a bit hit or miss, and Moonrise Kingdom is easily the film I think where his unique brand shines the brightest. The quirky characters, the motifs, the sets, the props, the color palates, the score…Everything works wonderfully here and creates a film so full of wonder and amazement.

Both child leads are non-actors starring in their first feature, which is incredibly impressive given their performances. They both give deadpan deliveries, which in the case of Sam Shakusky, I thought gave Moonrise Kingdom most of its laughs. The entire cast is wonderful. Who in their right mind could complain about a film with Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis together?

If you have any preconceived notions of what a Wes Anderson film entails, Moonrise Kingdom will not change your mind, but it’s almost as if Anderson has taken his style and cranked it to the maximum and the end results work better than most of his other films. The whimsy here is something that few other movies could ever hope of portraying. Not only is Moonrise Kingdom my favorite Anderson film to date, but it is my favorite film of 2012 thus far. Try to watch it without a smile plastered on your face the entire time.

I give it 5 seriously amazing soundtracks out of 5.

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