Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom

I finally watched Moonrise Kingdom. Maybe it was the fact that so many people told me it was good, but I felt disappointed by the film. I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson, but I wasn't a big fan of it.

Let's break down Anderson's feature films into groups based upon the films' co-writers (Anderson co-writes all his films)

The Owen Wilson films:
Bottle Rocket
The Royal Tenenbaums

The Noah Baumbach films:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Roman Coppola films:
The Darjeeling Limited
Moonrise Kingdom

The first three films that Anderson made, which he co-write with actor Owen Wilson, are hat amde his reputation. It's pretty easy to see why. I still remember seeing Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums in the theater–and have seen both of them since–and loved both.

The Baumbach films feel like Baumbach's work in many ways. They're much the result of a melding of their different sensibilities. Many of Baumbach's films are about families–the ones we chose and the ones we're given, and those two films definitely have those signs.

Now I'm not a fan of the films Anderson co-wrote with Coppola. I liked the film that Coppola wrote and directed, CQ–visually it was gorgeous and it was interesting, but there wasn't a lot there there, to borrow a phrase. I was not a fan of The Darjeeling Limited–it's the weakest of Anderson's films to my mind.

Moonrise Kingdom is for me the second weakest.

Anderson's films have always been set in their own worlds, and I love that aspect of them, the slightly unreal, off-kilter world which is almost exactly like our own. It's visually stunning, but as crazy as things may get, the events of the films are always grounded in emotional truth and emotional realism. As wacky as things may get in Life Aquatic, the family dynamics are real and when Wilson's character dies, it punches you in the gut just as hard as it does the characters.

In Moonrise Kingdom, the acting among the adults is top notch (hard not to with that cast) and has what I think may be Bruce Willis' finest performance. All of Anderson's films have a certain fable quality but they're grounded by the emotion. In Moonrise Kingdom the emotions are those of young children, which is fine, but there's little more than that. The adults on the island are going through things but it's just background. The kids are just kids. They don't grow or change in the course of the film or learn from the events and actions depicted.

I mentioned Bruce Willis earlier. The film has some of his best acting and in the end, his character plays a major role in the events of the film. If his character had a bigger role in the film–think on par with Bill Murray's character in Rushmore–and split between him and the kids, then I think that it would have been a much stronger film and a much more interesting film.

When I mentioned that I saw Moonrise Kingdom, my mother said that she liked the film and "it was cute." It was. But it wasn't any more than that.

Doctor Who?

I finally got around to watching the first half of Season 7 of Doctor Who–I'm still behind on a lot of things from my months away but now at least I'm caught up before the Christmas special. It's an odd season, very different from the two previous seasons that Steven Moffat oversaw and which starred Matt Smith. The two previous seasons had season-long story arcs mixed in with stand alone episodes to a greater degree than the show has had since it returned. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. This season has been about single episodes and really changing it up from one episode to the next.

And the episodes have been fun. In the first one, we get a new take on the daleks. In the fifth we get a new story with the Angels, and while it's no "Blink," it's much better than the two-parter from Season 5 with the Angels. We got another visit from River Song. There was the Doctor in an old west town dealing with a moral quandary. An alien invasion of sorts, featuring a new head of UNIT. Plus dinosaurs on a spaceship.

It also manages to be about aging and change. About dealing with our past, getting a second chance, trying to put things right and struggling to be flexible enough to change and confront new challenges. I'm sure that some people dislike these elements in the stories, but they give it a weight and it wouldn't be the same without it.

Now I'm waiting impatiently for the second half of the season. One episode written by Neil Gaiman. Two episodes written by Neil Cross (the man behind the brilliant "Luther" starring Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson). One episode written by Mark Gatiss starring Dame Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachael Stirling (both of whom I adore). Plus two episodes written by Moffat. I can't wait.

A few things to note:

-Jemma Redgrave. I love Jemma Redgrave–I'm willing to bet that most of the people who remember her from "Bramwell," "The Grid" and other projects feel similarly. Hopefully she'll stop by and see the doctor again. Plus she's apparently starring in another British tv series, Frankie, which also stars Torchwood's Eve Myles. Hopefully we'll get it stateside. It's been too long since I saw her in anything.

-Alex Kingston. I don't know if we'll be seeing more of River Song or not. I hope so. It would deeply depressing if that was her last appearance and in the same year the new "Upstairs Downstairs" get cancelled. We need a new television series or movie starring Alex Kingston. Seriously, her multiple appearances as River Song have shown she can do just about anything.

-Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. I already miss them...


Brom interview on SuicideGirls

Gerald Brom is one of the best fantasy artists in the world. (In addition to being one of my personal favorites) He's also a very talented writer. His new book is "Krampus, The Yule Lord" is a great, fantastic holiday tale–dark and twisted where the characters (and the reader) have to work for their happy endings. Which is how it should be. It's a great holiday tale.

He's also an incredibly nice guy.



November 20's Ear Cave in Hartford

The other night I attended the Ear Cave, a monthly series of audio and video stories curated by Hartford-area media figures. Catie Talarski and Patrick Skahill, both of whom are producers at Hartford's WNPR curated the show, which was largely composed of pieces that they discovered at last month's Third Coast Audio Festival

Ms. Talarski opened the night by talking a little about the Third Coast Audio Festival [http://thirdcoastfestival.org]and she opened by playing a piece that she had produced for the Festival's ShortDoc challenge. The contest as open to anyone and the rules were that it had to be under three minutes, feature at least two neighbors, involve three seconds of narrative silence and include a color in the title. She was self-deprecating about her own entry titled "Blue Skies, Black Fences":


She then played for us the winning short entry, "The Red White and Blue Bus" which was produced by Luke Eldridge, which took the idea in a different direction and really used the three seconds of narrative silence in an excellent way. And also demonstrated that three seconds of silence can be an eternity:


"The Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators" is the 43rd episode of the podcast 99 Percent Invisible, a show about design by Roman Mars and is a fun piece about the sound that escalators in the Washington, D.C. metro system make


Another piece was from producer Jonathan Mitchell, who was interviewed on Where We Live (the show where Talarski is the Senior Producer) and has a great show called The Truth, where this story originally appeared, about the death of Edgar Allen Poe:


Mitchell also produced a piece for  Studio 360 by Mitchell about the photographer Michele Iversen titled "She Sees Your Every Move" which was an intensely creepy piece. And it's creepy because of what Iverson does. A few slides of her work were projected while we listened to the piece, which I think made an impression on us that I don't think would have been achieved without the imagery. Iverson photographs people through their windows and it is a gaze that invades people's privacy. What makes her an interesting interviewee is that she freely admits that–and that she wouldn't want to be captured in such a way. I don't think it's possible to look at a photograph of unsuspecting people through a window without feeling unease, but I couldn't help but think about whether it is possible to depict intimate moments in a way that is not voyeuristic.

Obviously there are degrees, and Iverson is at an extreme degree–these are the types of images you see in a movie about a serial killer right before the person being observed is found butchered–but is it possible to witness an intimate moment not as a voyeur? To participate in such a moment is something very different after all.


Adam Curtis is a producer at the BBC and he edited together two video clips of five minutes and then without changing a single frame, placed two very different soundtracks over the clips, and watching them side by side, they produce very different effects for viewers, and I have to admit that I loved both–possibly more than I should, I'll admit, just because I enjoyed the juxtaposition.


Jad Abumrad, the co-host and co-producer of RadioLab in addition to being a MacArthur Genius Grant winner and the recipient of numerous other awards and accolades which make one hate him while being forced to acknowledge his many, considerable talents. He gave a speech at the festival called "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" and Ms. Talaraski and Mr. Skahill spoke about some of pieces he mentioned.

One of them is the opening scene of the movie "Birth," a movie of which I'm not particularly fond, but it is a stunning opening sequence.

Afterwards people talked a little about music, the juxtaposition of different elements and about how to use music or find a way to take the musicality of language and craft the story being told around these elements. One person asked if anyone knew about a radio story that was structured around music, which no one could quite think of an example.

WNPR host John Dankosky, who was there, mentioned the relatively lengthy piece by Robert Siegel which aired Monday night on All Things Considered about classical music–itself a rarity on radio–which was a great piece.


At the same time, I couldn't help but think of cinema. There are a handful of instances where the music has defined the editing of a film. It doesn't happen often–Alexander Nevsky, directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein with a score by Sergei Prokofiev, has a great battle sequence and is the result of the two working together. It's also one of the great musical scores ever written for a film.

As far as a radio piece that is structured or shaped around the music, I don't know of one either, though now of course I want to create one if only because if the immense challenge of creating such a thing. In film or in dance, two other art forms that have been very defined by music, creators are working with visual elements which are separate and distinct from the music. To create a radio piece driven by the music is possible but it would be unbelievably difficult. After all what would the other component be? In my head I'm thinking of a radio play defined by a classical piece of music but that would be intense, the rhythm and mood of the dialogue having to play off and be supported by the music. Something with lyrics would throw it off unless one sampled a few pieces and mixed it all together–one part Radiolab, one part Kayne West–though that's even more insane.

Also, I'm fairly certain that this is the only time that anyone will ever use the phrase "one part Radiolab, one part Kanye West"...

Well there's clearly something in the air because on Monday, the great show RadioWest from KUER in Salt Lake City spent an hour talking about the Third Coast Festival, interviewing some of the people involved and playing excerpts of some of the pieces that received awards there this year:


And 90.5 WNPR in Hartford will be playing two hours of work from the Third Coast Festival on Thanksgiving Day, which is worth a listen if you have a chance.

R.I.P. Boss

It was announced this week that Starz has cancelled Boss, the show starring Kelsey Grammar as the Mayor of Chicago. On the one hand I'm not surprised since the show didn't have the greatest ratings, but I'm disappointed. It was an incredibly interesting show, though it was also a deeply flawed one.

When the show was good, it was very good. The pilot episode was, I think, the strongest of the series. Part of the reason for that was the skill of director Gus Van Sant, but it also put Grammar and his character front and center. For far too much of the show, Grammar is off to the side as time is spent with his aides, councilmen, journalists, construction workers, various other political and union officials. I understand the reasoning behind this–it helps provide a sense of the city as a complex system with the mayor at the heart of it, actions reverberating across the city and the state, but sometimes the stories and characters weren't nearly as interesting.

Another problem is that the other characters weren't always compelling or interesting. Or the actors just weren't up to the challenge. And others simply weren't given the opportunity to do more. Martin Donovan had too little to do in the first season, and I think the show would have been stronger if his character played more of a role and there was less of various journalists and construction workers, which were a distraction.

The pilot worked because there was a lot of the mayor and it gave a sense of who he was and the history of Chicago, because he didn't just see himself as being at the center of current events but as part of a history of the city and that works because he knows the history. His lengthy monologue about the late Mayor Anton Cermak and his forgotten role in shaping the city was a great piece of drama.

This is King Lear. This is the Mayor who finds out he has a neurological disorder and is struggling to hold onto power while simultaneously trying to control what will happen after he's gone. Some of the best scenes of the power and influence of the mayor and the fear and loyalty that he could inspire were found in the scenes with Grammar where he was given free reign to chew scenery and offer some great monologues. This wasn't a show that aspired to the West Wing and that mannered patter, but something more theatrical.

Apparently there's talk that the show will wrap up with a two hour movie, which would be a nice touch. Honestly, I've always liked Grammar–I remember him from Cheers, I liked Fraiser, though the show ran too long. This show had too short a run, and I have to admit, I never appreciated what a good actor he is.

The War on Christmas begins again...sigh...

Apparently the so-called "war on Christmas" has begun. Which I suppose is appropriate since the seasons starts long before Thanksgiving, so why shouldn't the war...

I remember back in the early years of first decade of the Twenty-first century...when I first heard of this "War on Christmas" I was excited. Of course I thought that it was about how Christians were being persecuted in Iraq and how since the American invasion, Christians had been systematically targeted for death and harassment, were going into exile, and were very often being denied refuge in the United States and forced to jump through an insane number of hoops to do so.

That was not the "war on Christmas." Apparently those Christians being driven from their homes and killed. The Christians here in the United States have it hard because people say "happy holidays."

This would all be entirely academic but having worked retail and having been verbally assaulted by people who didn't appreciate that I was saying "happy holidays"–something that didn't just happen overnight but has been going on for decades, this felt more like a war on retail employees. Time and again I would see people acting in a vicious, deeply un-Christian fashion towards cashiers.

That's all people need, one more reason to be cruel to cashiers...

I really do not miss working retail.

Life and irony

I don't entirely agree with Christy Wampole's piece from yesterday's New York Times, but the piece offers a great deal of food for thought – which I think is mostly being ignored or scoffed at. Of course the purpose of the piece is that we should think about ourselves and that ultimately living life with ironic detachment means that we're ultimately missing out on something and that it's impossible for a society, especially a democracy, to function where such a large percentage of the population choses not to engage fully.

As much as I agree with such sentiments, I also can't help but think that it was inevitable that a large chunk of the population–and the internet–would rise up to dismissively mock the idea of the article (and the article itself, but mostly the idea of the article).

Regardless, Christy Wampole is now officially my new intellectual crush.



Star Wars...

I'm sick to death of hearing about Star Wars.

Also I'm tired of every publication and everyone with a blog giving their two cents about what the next Star Wars movie should be.

Of course now this movie is going to obsessively tracked by the press and the internet so that by the time the movie gets released, every plot twist will have been splashed everywhere, it will have been analyzed and discussed to death before anyone has seen a single frame and all the fun will have drained out of it.

Or maybe I'm wrong.


Dan Zettwoch goes DIY for Birdseye Bristoe

I'm a fan of Dan Zettwoch and his new book Birdseye Bristoe is great fun. It's a hard book to describe. It's about two kids who spend the summer with their uncle. It's about the world's tallest cellphone tower being built in a small town. The key to the book and what makes it a great comic–and so much fun–is how Zettwoch tells the story.


Zack Giallongo's Broxo

I spoke with cartoonist Zack Giallongo recently about his debut graphic novel Broxo just out from First Second Books. The story of a barbarian who travels to visit a remote tribe to find only a single boy, a strange witch, and comes to find that the dead have risen. Fantasy plus barbarians plus zombies.


Steven Weissman's Barack Hussein Obama

I spoke with Steven Weissman about his new book Barack Hussein Obama. It's a very different book for Weissman, whose work tends to be surreal with oddball characters, colorful turns of phrase and a unique sense of pacing. This isn't a book that is remotely realistic about the President or makes fun of him, but instead uses the names of political figures and does something very different with them.


Mark Siegel and Sailor Twain

I'm a great fan of Mark Siegel, who's the editorial director at First Second. We've met a few times over the years and we spoke recently when he visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT to talk about his new book Sailor Twain. His first graphic novel, it was serialized online and I spoke with him about the project when he was posting it a page at a time and was glad to get the chance to talk with him now that the book is completed.