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Wes Anderson
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton , Jared Gilman, Frances McDormand , Jason Schwartzman , Harvey Keitel
Writing Credits:
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out to find them.

Box Office:
$16 million.
Opening Weekend
$522.996 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$45.294 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/22/2015

• Audio Commentary with Director Wes Anderson, Co-Writer Roman Coppola, Criterion President Peter Becker and Actors Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Jake Ryan
• “The Making of Moonrise Kingdom” Featurettes
• “Welcome to New Penzance” Featurette
• “Benjamin Britten’s ‘Noye’s Fludde’” Featurette
• “Set Tour With Bill Murray” Featurette
• “iPhone Videos by Edward Norton”
• “Cousin Ben” Promotional Reel
• Animated Books
• Trailer
• Booklet and Map


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Moonrise Kingdom: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2012)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 22, 2015)

Indie legend Wes Anderson returned to the screen with his first live-action flick in five years via 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom. Set in 1965, the film takes us to the tiny, remote New England island of New Penzance, where we meet its inhabitants.

The film focuses mostly on two early adolescents named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). She lives with her family on New Penzance, while he’s a ward of the state who spends time on the island as part of a scout troop.

Sam doesn’t fit in with the other boys, so he and Suzy – who he got to know as penpals – run off together. We follow their adventures, the attempts of adults to find them, and other interpersonal complications.

I saw Kingdom theatrically, and when I view something on the big screen, I usually like to chat about my experience on the various Internet forums I frequent. In this case, however, I avoided the topic. I encountered uniformly positive remarks about the film and just wasn’t in the mood to have to argue with strangers about it.

Normally I don’t shy away from such debate, so why did I stay on the sidelines for Kingdom? Mostly because at this point in Anderson’s career, I tend to think that if a viewer doesn’t like one of his films, that viewer is partly to blame.

Anderson has made enough movies over the 19 years since he debuted with Bottle Rocket that an alert filmgoer should know what to expect. Anderson virtually never veers outside of his comfort zone; his movies tell a variety of stories but do so in pretty much the same manner every time. As such, if I don’t like Anderson’s work, to some degree that’s a “shame on me” situation, and I didn’t feel like arguing the subject with more devoted Anderson buffs.

Despite that factor, I still think Kingdom deserves criticism because of the way Anderson expresses his usual MO. While I could never claim to be a big Anderson fan, I’ve enjoyed his prior work. I’ve reviewed four of his six earier films, and I liked all of them. Granted, only 2007’s animated charmer The Fantastic Mr. Fox received an enthusiastic endorsement from me, as I gave more mixed marks to 1998’s Rushmore, 2001’s Royal Tenenbaums and 2004’s Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Though I wasn’t fully satisfied with those last three, I did like them and recommended them. At the very least, those reviews should shield me from accusations that I simply don’t care for Anderson’s work or style at all.

So what goes wrong with Kingdom? It has all the same ingredients as the other movies – awesome cast, low-key introspective feel, whimsical/off-beat tone – so why does it almost wholly leave me cold?

The main problem stems from Anderson’s inability to control his desire to be the King of Twee. In the past, the director always walked a fine line between simple quirkiness and excessive preciousness; he occasionally crossed it, but he remained on the right side enough of the time to keep his movies enjoyable.

In Kingdom, Anderson crosses the line repeatedly. In fact, he crosses it, stomps on it, and then urinates all over it. He so heavily embraces his trademark sense of delicate irony and fey charm that Kingdom often across as self-parody.

Virtually all Anderson films embrace a certain sense of unreality, but here, those choices become unbearable. Anderson creates such a cloying little universe that it alienates the viewer – or this viewer, at least.

Anderson seems much more concerned with art direction than story, characters or anything else. He appears totally focused on making sure that everything’s “just right” in terms of visual design and camerawork that he forgets he needs to tell an interesting tale about intriguing personalities. Add to that an overwhelming level of self-indulgent quirkiness and matters go south quickly.

I’ve never quite understood Anderson’s affection for deadpan, understated performances, but in the past, that style didn’t harm his movies too much because he recruited such stellar actors. Of course, we continue to find a plethora of talents here; with Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Bruce Willis, and Jason Schwartzman in tow, the film boasts an amazing cast of adult actors.

Unfortunately, most of the film concentrates on its younger performers; in addition to Hayward and Gilman, we spend a ton of time with other adolescents. Across the board, the young actors are mediocre to terrible.

They simply lack the life experience to overcome Anderson’s direction. At no point does it appear that any of them created character choices on their own. I get the impression that Anderson told Gilman, Hayward and all the other kids exactly what to do and they just mimed his instructions.

And mimed them badly. Again, when Anderson wants adults to play low-key and understated, they still bring out some sense of personality and emotion. The kids can’t, so they just come across as lifeless and flat. Suzy and Sam are one-dimensional, monotone characters who never vaguely threaten to endear themselves to the audience.

Maybe that’s what Anderson wanted. Maybe he preferred a pair of less-than-wholly-lovable kids to counteract the usual preening, mugging Hollywood over-actors.

And that’s fine, but he could better strike a balance between hammy broadness and this. It’s simply tough to watch Gilman and Hayward because they’re so one-note. There’s no heart to their performances; they come across as robotic and stiff, which seems strange for a movie about passionate young lovers. When I was 12, if I ran off with some cute girl, got to see her in her underwear, made out with her and groped her chest, I think I’d have been a little more enthusiastic than flat-line Sam!

Anderson films always suffer from a certain clinical coldness, as they seem so concerned with their arty affectations that they detach us from emotions. As I noted, the quality of the actors and the general cleverness of the storytelling overcame that issue in the past, but here it becomes a major problem. Moonrise Kingdom lays a massive egg, as it lacks any sense of charm and simply becomes grating and phony.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Moonrise Kingdom appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Shot Super 16mm, Kingdom looked good for that format but nonetheless suffered from the stock’s limitations.

Most of the concerns stemmed from iffy definition. Close-ups looked fine, and most wider exteriors showed decent detail. However, when we got interiors that went even vaguely broad, they tended to appear soft and mushy. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to manifest themselves. Due to the film stock, grain was more noticeable than usual for a modern movie, but it wasn’t as heavy as expected; the grain seemed natural and unobtrusive. I saw no signs of print flaws.

In terms of colors, Kingdom went with a fairly yellow palette to match the autumnal setting. Some brighter hues emerged, though, and the tones tended to be pretty full and rich. Blacks were reasonably deep and dense, while shadows were acceptable; they could be a little murky, but that wasn’t a serious issue. Objectively, this wasn’t a great image, but given the restrictions of the source, I thought it deserved a “B”.

Due to its status as a low-key character piece, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Moonrise Kingdom didn’t get many opportunities to shine. Nonetheless, it offered a perfectly acceptable soundscape that occasionally delivered more dynamic material. Music filled out the spectrum well, and the general sense of environment worked well.

Occasionally the soundfield came more actively to life – such as on the water and especially during the storm that capped the story – and those moments opened up the tale in a compelling manner. Much of the movie remained low-key, but the mix suited the material.

Audio quality was satisfactory. Music fared based, as the score and songs appeared vibrant and full. Effects usually stayed subdued, but they always came across as accurate and showed good punch when necessary. Speech sounded crisp and distinctive. Nothing here really impressed, but the soundtrack was worth a “B”.

How does the Criterion release compare to the original Blu-ray from 2012? Both displayed awfully similar picture and audio. The Criterion version claims to offer “restored” visuals, which perplexes me, as I can’t figure out why a three-year-old movie would need to be “restored”. In any case, perhaps others will discern some obvious differences between the picture/audio of the two discs, but I can’t.

The Criterion release mixes old and new extras. In the “new” category, we find an audio commentary from director Wes Anderson, co-producer Roman Coppola, and actors Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Ed Norton and Jake Ryan. Along with Criterion president Peter Becker, Anderson and Ryan deliver a running, sporadically screen-specific chat. The track involves the others via occasional phone calls. We learn about script/story/characters, Anderson’s processes, sets and locations, cast and performances, camerawork, visual effects, music, and related topics.

A quirky movie gets a quirky commentary, and not just due to its unusual structure. It also branches off to allow Ryan to play a Mozart piece on the piano, and we hear his impression of Billy Crystal’s “Fernando” character.

Despite these goofy choices, the commentary works pretty well. While I think it could be more focused than it is, we still get a good array facts and insights connected to the movie. Even with its quirks, this becomes a useful piece.

Another new component, The Making of Moonrise Kingdom breaks into four areas. We get “Exploring the Set” (17:11), “Storyboard Animatics and Narrator Tests” (4 scenes, 8:39), “Auditions” (4:34) and “Miniatures” (1:38). Narrated by Anderson’s assistant Martin Scali, “Set” gives us raw footage from the shoot, while the “Tests” let us see Anderson’s meticulous planning processes.

“Auditions” give us reels from Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Lucas Hedges, Rob Campbell, Tommy Nelson, Andreas Sheikh, LJ Foley, Gabriel Rush, Charlie Kilgore, Chandler Frantz, and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick. Finally, “Miniatures” shows those reduced-size effects elements.

Except for “Auditions”, all of these offer good information. Actually, “Auditions” is fine when it shows actual tryouts, but it mostly focuses on interview snippets from the young actors, and those seem tedious. “Set” and “Tests” work very well, though.

Welcome to New Penzance goes for four minutes, one second and focuses on the actors. Across these, Bob Balaban narrates as we see shots from the set and learn about Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Wes Anderson. I could live without the bland matter-of-fact tone used for these snippets – which emulates Balaban’s character from the movie – but at least we actually get a smidgen of information here, mostly via material from the locations. The pieces are lackluster but watchable.

Next we get a two-minute, 59-second Set Tour With Bill Murray. He tells us some anecdotes and shows us some locations, though mostly he just makes low-key jokes. These are actually pretty funny; we don’t really learn anything here, but at least the clip’s entertaining.

A new piece, Benjamin Britten’s ‘Noye’s Fludde’ lasts one minute, 53 seconds. It gives us a quick history of Britten’s work and shows photos/footage from various productions – including one that featured a young Wes Anderson. It’s insubstantial but not bad.

Eleven iPhone Videos by Edward Norton offers exactly what it implies. After a two-minute, 32-second intro from Norton, we see 18 minutes, 16 seconds of the actor’s phone-shot footage from the set. Essentially a collection of “home movies”, Norton’s material offers an unusual and enjoyable behind the scenes perspective.

Under Animated Books, we see a four-minute, 14-second collection. Balaban reappears in character and gives us short glimpses of the books Suzy carries with her. Like much of this package, the compilation seems cutesy but it adds some value.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate the two-minute, three-second Cousin Ben. The clip brings us a clever promotional piece.

The package also includes a few paper materials. It provides a card with a cast photo, a map of New Penzance and a booklet with essays from critic Geoffrey O’Brien and some young writers. I like this collection of components.

If you want to see an utterly passive, passionless – but super-quirky and twee – tale about young love, Moonrise Kingdom will be for you. As for me, however, I found it to offer a slow, overly affected and dull experience. The Blu-ray delivers generally good picture and audio as well as an occasionally goofy but often informative collection of supplements.

Criterion creates a nice release, though I don’t think it merits a “double dip” for fans who own the original Blu-ray. The new bonus materials are nice, but the visuals and sound of the Criterion disc don’t appear to improve on the prior Blu-ray.

To rate this film, visit the original review of MOONRISE KINGDOM

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