New This Week
This week’s two major DVD releases coincidentally take place in the mid-1960s, but are worlds apart in tone, setting and style.
One of the year’s best reviewed films, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom set on fictitious Penzance Island off the coast of Maine in 1965, may be the director’s best film. It is certainly his most ambitious.
Not to be confused with his contemporary, Paul Thomas Anderson, who makes very dark films, Wes Anderson’s stock in trade is whimsy. The whimsical tone of Moonrise Kingdom is set in its opening scene in which the family home of the film’s twelve year-old heroine (Kara Hayward) is seen resembling a dollhouse. She and her younger siblings are listening to Benjamin Britten’s 1946 opus, "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, op. 34: Themes A.-F." while her lawyer father (Bill Murray) reads and her lawyer mother (Frances McDormand) prepares dinner.
The scene shifts to a troop of boy scouts, or as they are called in the film “khaki scouts”, camping on the island where the film’s misfit orphaned twelve year-old hero (Jared Gilman) is having a tough time fitting in despite the efforts of a sympathetic camp counselor (Edward Norton). We hear "Khaki Scout Marches (Camp Ivanhoe Medley)", composed for the film by longtime Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh, played on the soundtrack. Another Britten opus is then played, after which the island’s sheriff (Bruce Willis) is seen at home enjoying the music of Hank Williams as his 1952 hit, “Kaw-Liga” is heard on the soundtrack.
The scene shifts to a school play where the boy is in the audience and the girl is on stage as Britten’s "Noye's Fludde (Noah’s Flood), op. 59: Noye, Noye, Take Thou Thy Company, op. 59" is heard accompanying the students in an enactment of the flood.
I mention the choice of music because it is essential to the set-up of the film in which the boy and girl will shortly run away, but not get very far. It establishes the fact that these are unconventional kids, not typical kids of the day who would be more likely to listen to The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. In fact the whole set-up seems to belong to a time prior to the mid-sixties. It doesn’t resemble real life so much as it does a film made several years earlier such Walt Disney’s 1961 film, The Parent Trap, but this is no Disney film. It is the work of a singular artist whose endearing quirkiness has given us the likes of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.
Adding to the film’s unconventional music, the film’s love theme is "Le temps de l'amour" sung by Francoise Hardy on an album sent to the girl by her grandmother in France. Alexandre Desplat composed the film’s incidental score.
The acting is fine, if unusually muted for the likes of its high powered cast. Only Tilda Swinton as the film’s chief villain, a social services witch who wants to take the boy away, is larger than life. The film is a must for Wes Anderson devotees. Others may find it a bit precious.
Moonrise Kingdom is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
1966 is the year of Mad Men: Season Five, the four time Emmy winner for Best Drama Series that would likely have won a fifth consecutive award were it not for the phenomenal success of fledgling series Homeland.
Cultural references include The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the films The Naked Prey and Born Free and the TV series Star Trek. There is still too much smoking and drinking to which marijuana and LSD have been added to the mix. The heart of the show, however, remains the take- no-prisoners world of advertising and the sharply drawn characters who inhabit that world.
Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is now happily married, for the most part, to trophy wife Megan, played by the stunningly beautiful and talented Jessica Paré. Their story takes up a good deal of the season but doesn’t dominate. Practically perfect copyrighter Peggy Olsen, played by Elisabeth Moss, is still forthright, but less perfect this season. Christina Hendricks as office manager Joan Harris once again proves invaluable and Jared Harris really comes into his own as British ex-patriot Lane Pryce. Vincent Kartheiser as sleazeball Pete Campbell and Aaron Staton as his nemesis, Ken Cosgrove, are also given interesting storylines. Campbell shows an unexpected tender side in his affair with a mentally disturbed suburban housewife movingly played by Alexis Bledel.
Rich Sommer as TV sales coordinator Harry Crane is given the season’s least interesting storyline, a flirtation with Hare Krishna that goes nowhere. John Slattery as senior partner Roger Sterling still comes across as rather one-note and veteran actor Robert Morse as elderly partner Bert Cooper still isn’t given enough to do despite three Emmy nominations for Guest Actor in prior seasons.
January Jones makes limited appearances as Betty Draper, Don’s first wife, due to having been on maternity leave during filming. Kiernan Shipka as Don and Betty’s daughter Sally has more to do, really coming on strong in several episodes. Actors in smaller parts who shine this season include Ben Feldman as the firm’s first Jewish copyrighter; Charlie Hofheimer as Peggy’s reporter boyfriend; Sam Page as Joan’s hotheaded husband; Marten Holden Weiner (son of series writer/producer Matthew Weiner) as Sally’s friend Glen Bishop; Julia Ormond as Don’s French Canadian mother-in-law; Embeth Davidtz as Lane’s very proper wife, Rebecca and John Slattery’s real life wife Talia Balsam as Roger’s cast aside first wife. Also of note, ten year-old Mason Vale Cotton, Teri Hatcher’s son on Desperate Housewives is now the third actor to play the part of Bobby Draper.
Hamm, Moss, Harris, Hendricks, Feldman and Ormond accounted for six of the series’ seventeen Emmy nominations this year, none of which it won.
Mad Men: Season Five is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Warner Archive continues to impress with its output. Among its latest releases is the much requested 1932 classic Red Dust, directed by Victor Fleming, with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Mary Astor. The film had been delayed for some time while the archivists restored it to near perfection. Gable, at the start of his career as the owner of a rubber plantation, Harlow at her best as a thinly disguised prostitute and the always brilliant Astor as a straying wife play unforgettable characters in this pre-Code classic. When it was remade twenty-one years later as John Ford’s Mogambo, Gable, still a major star, recreated his original role while Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly received Oscar nominations for the parts played by long deceased Harlow and the very much alive Astor, who though still a vibrant actress, was then being cast in old lady roles. The two films make a fascinating double-bill.
Playing catch-up, Fox Cinema Archives is releasing their long withheld library at a rapid pace. Among their newest releases is 1945’s Nob Hill in which lucky George Raft has three leading ladies: Joan Bennett, Vivian Blaine and thirteen year-old Peggy Ann Garner who steals the film the same year as her unforgettable performance in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn earned her a much deserved Oscar for outstanding juvenile performance.
This week’s new releases include the summer hit, Magic Mike and the Criterion Collection release of Sunday Bloody Sunday.