Moonrise Kingdom: They Hype Surpasses the Product

Directed by Wes Anderson
Focus Films, PG-13, 94 mins.

* * 1/2 


Everyone keeps waiting for director Wes Anderson to make his masterpiece. He already has–Rushmore (1998). That explains why he’s been remaking it ever since. Just as surely as a Fox News broadcast will contain a screed against “Obamacare,” a Woody Allen film will center on a hopeless neurotic played by the director (or a surrogate), and a John Irving novel will contain a bear, Vienna, and wrestling, so do all Wes Anderson films have standard elements. These include:

·      A main character (either a child or a perpetual adolescent) that is odd and misunderstood.
·      A period of trial in which the protagonist is ridiculed and presumed mentally damaged.
·      The revelation that the outcast is actually quirky, but brilliant.
·      A central dilemma that children resolve by outwitting stupid adults. A host of secondary characters whose motives and behaviors are inexplicable and improbable.
·      Bill Murray playing a droll but ineffectual character.

Some critics have hailed Moonrise Kingdom as the film we’ve been waiting for Anderson to make, but from where I sit there’s not reason to cast aside his unofficial nickname: “Mess” Anderson. Those who have been charmed by Moonrise Kingdom do have one point in their favor–it has a coherent narrative that carries us from start to finish rather than the helter-skelter randomness that made some of his other efforts feel like a Saturday Night Live sketch that got carried away. This time the setting is 1965 and we get two brilliant-but-misunderstood misfits, the pre-Goth Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) and an orphaned geek scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). Both kids are as out of place among their peers as Mormons in a beer tent, and each is either ignored by adults and peers or endlessly harassed by them. Naturally, they gravitate to each other.

 The setting is an isolated New England island with few permanent residents, though Suzy’s family–three oblivious brothers and la-de-da parents played by Murray and Frances McDormand–is among them. Not much happens on an island with no paved roads and a smattering of adults only slightly brighter than fireflies, though everyone is smart enough to know that Laura Bishop (the frumpy McDormand) is having it off with Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the island’s dimwitted chief of police. The island’s only other excitement occurs in the summer, when it is inundated by Khaki Scouts holding their encampment there, and on several adjacent islands. Unbeknown to the adults–who never seem to know much of anything–Suzy and Sam have previously met and have, for a year, been plotting to run away with each other once Sam’s Khaki Scout encampment convenes. When Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and Walt Bishop (Murray) discover their charges are missing, they, the scouts, Sharp, and others set off to track them down before an impending hurricane lashes the island. Sam proves a better scout and cartographer than his pursuers, so he and Suzy get some time alone in twelve-year-old paradise before their quarry hones in on them. Once that happens, the film turns into a bizarre caper film that rapidly adds cameo characters of uncertain motives to the cast: Cousin Ben, a Milo Minderbinder for scouts (played by Jason Schwartzman, who starred in Rushmore), Head Scout Master Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel, who thinks he’s playing a WWII RAF officer), and an angular, icy woman called Social Services (Tilda Swinton) who doesn’t necessarily have Sam’s best interests in mind. I not sure anyone knows who or what Bob Balaban is playing; he simply appears on occasion, makes a remark that plugs a plot hole, and disappears.
The film has its charms, and both Hayward and Gilman are terrific. The humor is offbeat and unexpected, but mostly in its small details. (There aren’t many laugh-out-loud moments.) And, yes, its narrative is way tighter than Anderson meanderings such as Darjeeling Limited (2007) or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), though the latter is much funnier. (Darjeeling, on the other hand, is certainly among the worst films of the 21st century.) To be frank, though, Anderson’s coherence is ham-handed. He telegraphs everything and, just in case you don’t get it, his camera lingers on everything prefigured for so long that even the intellectually halt and lame will proclaim “Doh!” I wanted to love this film, but the best I can offer is “meh.” I’m still waiting for Anderson to live up to the promise shown in Rushmore and suspect he may be like Quentin Tarantino before he made Kill Bill–in desperate need of changing his entire focus before he becomes a parody of himself.--Rob Weir


New Bedford Folk Festival Ranks Among the Best

Newport… Winnipeg… Big Muddy… Old Songs…. Fine folk music festivals each (though Newport is way too pricey), but ask me to list my favorite and the old Massachusetts seaport town of New Bedford goes straight to the top. Held each year on the weekend of (or just after) the Fourth of July, New Bedford is a bargain extraordinaire. Tell me where else you could see Garnet Rogers and Patty Larkin for two and a half days for $30. (A one-day pass is just $20.) Rogers and Larkin were 2012 headliners, sort of. One of the glories of New Bedford is that everybody gets a star turn or two. Plus your armband gets you access to seven stages. As always, it means you’ll hear some folks whose work you didn’t know very well but will be sure to check out in the future.
Here are some of my impressions from the weekend of July 6-8. Fell free to post your own comments on the forum if you were lucky enough to attend this year’s events.

Let’s start with this: Patty Larkin is a goddess. She looks amazing at age 61, sounds fabulous, and plays guitar like her hands are on fire. The Custom House tent was packed with hundreds of folks for her headline show and each had that mix of amazement and ecstasy on their face as Larkin made her way through some old and future favorites.  Garnet Rogers, on the other hand, was very subdued and was content to be more of a storyteller. The material, to be honest, sounded a bit mailed in, though his wit and irreverence were fine-tuned.

Watch out for Annalivia, a Boston-based quintet that blends Irish, traditional, and Appalachian material. They’ve seemed a bit tepid in the past, but they were clicking on all cylinders at Summerfest and made a lot of new fans. Here’s hoping they build off that energy.

If anyone doesn’t know the pure joie de vivre of Benoit Bourque, check him out immediately. Benoit has been playing, clogging, singing, and joking his way in every heart he touches between Quebec and New Bedford since the first Summerfest 16 years ago; this time he showed up with his son, Antoine, a peach of an accordionist who didn’t fall very far from the family tree.

It was wonderful to see so many younger performers like Antoine in New Bedford. It’s not fair to hold them to the same standards as seasoned vets, but keep your eyes peeled for the Cape Breton sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald. Another Canadian act on the rise is the duo Dala. In keeping with the youth theme, there’s Seth Glier, he of a falsetto/tenor voice reminiscent of a cross between Ellis Paul and young Billy Joel. At age 22 he already has a Grammy nomination under his belt. Think he might have a promising future? (My advice: Lose a few syrupy love songs and add some more grit.)

Pete and Maura Kennedy delivered my favorite performances of the weekend. Pete is a virtuoso guitar player and Maura an accomplished vocalist. Their mix of straight-up folk, rockabilly, country, and urban folk rock offers something for every taste. I was especially enamored by how well Pete orchestrated the workshops he headed. These folks are always on when they take the stage, but even though you have trouble not looking at them, they play without ego and seek to involve everyone.

It’s always hard to take in everything at a festival. Although I didn’t get to hear tons of their stuff, I enjoyed dipping into performances by squeeze box demon John Whelan, the eclectic blues, etc. of Pumpkin Head Ted, the dynamic folk of Peter Mulvey, the plaintive Appalachian music of Molly Andrews, the booming voice of shanty singer Ian Robb, and the songwriting prowess of Andrew Calhoun and Rod MacDonald. Another nice find was the Quebecois band Raz de Marée. That translates “Tidal Wave,” but the lineup actually favors subtle tunes and complex arrangements over kitchen dance tempos.

Every year I discover someone whose music was unfamiliar to me. This year it was Zoë Lewis, an offbeat woman from England who now resides in Provincetown. Some reviewers use the term “vaudeville” to describe her act, and it’s apt. You never know what Ms. Lewis will do–sing a poignant café-jazz-flavored homage to her mother, burst into scat, do a wacky ukulele-backed comic song, pick up the guitar for some folk, or sit down at the keyboards for some classic jazz.  She speaks in soft English accents; she sings in gutsy gusts. I was charmed.

 Apologies to other fine musicians I simply didn’t have time to check out, but thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and sponsors for allowing me to dip into so many amazing performances.  --Rob Weir


MLB Predictions at All-Star Break

July 10 is that annual meaningless event known as the All-Star Game, this year appropriately played in a meaningless place: Kansas City. It’s time to check on my spring predictions and see how I’m doing, plus venture out on a few more thin limbs.

American League:

East:  As predicted, it’s the Yankees’ division to win or lose. It’s time to give Joe Girardi a break; he’s done a better job of juggling injuries than anyone in baseball, and don’t feed me the “Yankees have more money” line–when 60% of your starters go down and you’re in first, it’s good managing. And it’s also time for the Derek Jeter haters to crawl under a rock; he’s having the kind of year that befits one of the five greatest shortstops of all time. Even better is Robbie Cano, MLB’s best second baseman. The Yanks will be hard-pressed to maintain the pace if Sabathia doesn’t come back strong, but the Yankees should be in the postseason. Downside: The albatross contract of the grossly overrated Alex Rodriquez (now the 5th best 3rd baseman in the AL) makes it hard to add pieces.
            As predicted, the Rays offense is woeful. Can someone explain the attraction of Carlos Pena? The pitching is very good, but I continue to think the Rays will come up short. The Blue Jays are the opposite–their pitching has been terrible and it’s time to hang the “bust” label on Kyle Drabek, who is at AAA where he belongs. I had them for second, but I don’t think so anymore. Do we believe in the Orioles? I do not; I think they’ll gravitate toward the bottom of the division in the second half.
            This leaves the Red Sox and I confess I’m as puzzled by them now as in April. I correctly predicted the Daniel Bard meltdown, shortstop woes, and a monster year for the sublime David Ortiz. The Sox are mixing in some nice young players and, if it was my team, I’d write off 2012 and go for flesh blood. If the Sox are committed to Bobby Valentine, make it his team. This would entail cleaning house and the obvious route would be to dump the poisonous Josh Beckett, the fragile-as-glass Jacoby Ellsbury, and admit that Adrian Gonzalez needs to be in a small market. No one will take Carl Crawford; so find a permanent spot on the DL for him. Then again, this roster has enough potential to win the division. I simply have no idea what this bunch will do, though if the past is an indication, they’ll finish out of the money.

Central: I think this will come down to a two-team race between the Tigers and White Sox, though the Indians keep lurking within striking distance. Miguel Cabrera has been a beast in Motown and Prince Fielder shows signs of waking up. As I predicted, though, Justin Verlander has been mortal this year, albeit a very strong mortal. The Tigers’ problem is simple, though: no one beyond Verlander is better than mediocre, and that’s a charitable assessment. The Tigers look like their teams from the mid-1980s: good enough to mash their way to the postseason, but lacking the arms to seal the deal.
            The White Sox, as I predicted, are thriving now that Loudmouth Ozzie Guillen is gone. The Sox are a no-big-stars outfit, but they pitch well, they’re playing solid baseball, and they stole Kevin Youkilis from Boston, who will provide leadership. Don’t be surprised to see them take one of the wild card slots. The Indians will be entertaining but lack staying power. As predicted, both the Royals and Twins are awful.

West: I called it a two-team race between the Rangers and the Angels; whoever doesn’t win the division gets a wild card. The Rangers are, on paper, the best team in MLB. Yu Darvish has lived up to his billing thus far, though Matt Harrison’s emergence has been more important. Josh Hamilton shows signs of matching maturity to ability, which is bad news for pitchers everywhere. The rest of the lineup is fearsome as well. Are they an arm short? I suspect we’ll find out–in the World Series.
            That is, unless the Angels upset them, which could happen. I certainly didn’t think Albert Pujols would be an average player, but the Youth Squad (Trout, Morales, Trumbo, Bourjos) has been even better than advertised. I don’t think the pitching is good enough to win the Big Halo, but we’ll see. The Athletics and the Mariners? Neither is interesting enough to warrant an after thought.

National League:

East: The Phillies have shocked me by how bad they’ve been, and the Nationals by how good they’ve been. I said the Phils’ offense would be challenged, but my God! The problems goes beyond Ryan Howard’s injury woes. The Phils will be better now that Roy Halladay and Chase Utley are off the DL, but this looks like a lost year.
            So can the Nats actually win it? Maybe. Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmerman have matured faster than I predicted, and Stephen Strasburg looks stronger than I imagined after arm surgery. I still think they’re too young, but I’m starting to believe. On paper, the Braves should contend for the division or a wild card, but they remain as inconsistent as last year’s meltdown. I give Fredi Gonzalez until August 1 to have this team in contention, or you’ll see a new skipper in Atlanta to give Chipper Jones his final send-off.
            The Marlins have underachieved, just as I predicted. Gaby Sanchez was supposed to be a stud; now he’s in the minors, another victim of Guillen’s head games. I hate this team and revel in its misfortunes! The Mets, on the other hand, are among MLB’s pleasant surprises. Name a player on this team who isn’t David Wright. What a year R. A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese are having. I said in April that if the Mets didn’t lose 100 games, Terry Collins should be Manager of the Year. Wrap it! The Mets won’t make the postseason, but they’ll be fun and there hasn’t been much of that in Queens in the past few years.

Central: The Pirates are in first, which means you can start the Dusty Baker Death Watch in Cincinnati, where the Reds are again underachieving. The Reds ought to walk way with this division, but since they refuse to win this is a wide-open prairie of mediocrity, except for the Astros and Cubs, who are execrable. The Brewers simply lost too much to free agency and don’t have the personnel to win; they will dump salaries at the trade deadline. The reigning champion Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter for the season and without Pujols are offensively challenged, but can still be a factor. So could the Pirates actually win the Central? Nah! The competition is so poor that they might have a shot at .500, but the Reds should prevail in the end, though Baker might not be at the helm. Whoever comes out of the Central is first-round playoff fodder.

West: As predicted, it’s the Dodgers and Giants at the head of the pack. What we’ve learned about the Dodgers, though, is that Don Mattingly is no Joe Girardi; after a torrid start, the Dodgers have been unable to sustain injury challenges. Granted it’s hard to replace Matt Kemp, but a good manager finds ways to compensate and Mattingly has not yet proved his mettle. The door has opened for the Giants, whose pitching is formidable and its offense risible. These two should be 1-2 for the rest of the summer.
            The dark horse is last year’s division-winning Diamondbacks. Thus far, though, they have sustained my April comment that 2011 was a fluke built upon career years that won’t be duplicated. The Rockies are chronically short several pieces and so it shall be again this year. The Padres? No one cares and no one should.

World Series: I’m clueless about the NL champ. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Dodgers, but I do so with little conviction. In the end, though, I think this is the year the Rangers wear the bright, shinning badge. Second choice: the Yankees with Jeter as Series MVP. All of this means smart money is on the Pirates in a Cinderella upset witnessed by the 12,403 spectators who care in Pittsburgh.