Film Friday: Moonrise Kingdom

moonrise kingdom Movie poster: Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson (2012)

Sam: So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Suzy: I don’t know…I want go on adventures I think–not get stuck in one place. How about you?
Sam: Go on adventures too, not get stuck too.


There was a time when I wanted films to challenge me; to shake me out of my world into somewhere uncomfortable and new. As I’ve grown older (and life itself has proved more challenging) my movie-watching needs have changed. Now, it’s enough to be entertained; something that can often be accomplished with clever writing and good acting. Add a good soundtrack, skillful direction, artful cinematography and an interesting aesthetic — and I’m really in my happy place.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom consistently takes me to a happy place.

It’s a simple story of two young people who fall in love and run away together — except that they are both 12 years old and they are “running away” on a very small island.

Suzy and Sam meet when Sam is sent to a summer camp on the island of New Penzance. Both highly intelligent, sensitive misfits, they become pen-friends and over the course of a year hatch a plan to run away together.

The film is set in 1965, and shot in the flat, pastel tones of photos and movies from that era. This is not only stylistically beautiful, but acts as a kind of innocence-filter to a relationship between two children, which could easily — in a different context — be quite exploitative.

moonrise-kingdom-1024x682 Suzy and Sam, Moonrise Kingdom. Image; Su Leslie

Suzy and Sam provide the central focus of the story, yet their calm, quiet relationship is the eye of a storm whipped up by the eccentric and dysfunctional adults around them.


While the children who played Suzy and Sam were both first-time actors, the adult cast was made up of established stars — many of whom are Wes Anderson’s regular collaborators. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray are great as Suzy’s brittle, lawyer parents, while Bruce Willis does a wonderful job channeling James Stewart as Penzance Island’s basically decent police captain. Both Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton have quite small roles; the former as a Boy Scout commander and the latter as the sinister and somewhat deranged “Social Services.”

The music of Benjamin Britten features extensively in the film’s soundtrack, particularly The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Noye’s Flood, both of which were written specifically for children.

There is much that can be read into Moonrise Kingdom; themes of isolation and belonging, friendship, love, trust and adolescent sexuality. And if you find yourself thinking about these things long after the closing credits, that is great. But equally, if you simply feel happy and taken out of the everyday for 90 minutes, that’s absolutely fine too.

You can see the film’s trailer here:

Have you seen Moonrise Kingdom? What did you think? Are you as Wes Anderson fan, and if so, how does this film compare with others you’ve seen?

 About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.




Film Friday: on the dole and on the stage

The first few months after my son was born were a bit of a blur.

What I remember most is feeling isolated, confused and sleepless. There was a lot of crying (both the kid and me) and an overwhelming sense that for the first time in my life I had no idea what I was doing and no logical, scientific way to figure it out.

The other thing I remember was watching DVDs — often still wearing my pyjamas, with the baby latched on to me. Two of my favourite films from that time are The Full Monty (1997)and Brassed Off (1996).

I have no idea how many times I watched them — often back to back. I do know that they must have provided exactly the kind of escape I needed, and that I can still watch them with a sense of real pleasure.

My reason for including both films in one post is not only about my experience of viewing them, but about the films themselves, which in many ways are very, very similar.

Made within a year of each other, both films tell the story of a group of struggling, unemployed, working-class men in England’s (formerly) industrial heartland who find success and a sense of achievement through performing.

In The Full Monty, a group of ex steel workers plan to make some money by putting on a Chippendale-like striptease show for local women.

In Brassed Off, the colliery brass band in a town that’s about to have its coal mine shut down struggles to continue long enough to compete at the national brass band championship.

Both films focus on the relationships between a group of men struggling with the all-encompassing loss of self that comes from the sort of widespread structural unemployment that gutted whole communities. Yet both are comedies. The Full Monty in particular is very funny, deftly highlighting serious issues like depression, body-image, fathers’ rights and suicide without trivializing them.

Brassed Off is the more overtly political of the two. A major element of the story involves the miners having to vote whether or not to accept a redundancy package or fight to keep the mine operational. Accepting a payout that could keep their families from the breadline is also an abandonment of their identity and acknowledgement that a much-hated government has “won.” The speech in the clip below, delivered by the late Pete Postlethwaite, sums up the film’s politics beautifully.

Gender relationships in both films are interesting. The female characters are portrayed as strong, competent and generally in charge. In contrast with their laid-off menfolk, almost all are employed; indeed both Gloria in Brassed Off  and Gaz’s ex-wife Mandy in The Full Monty, have not only jobs, but careers.

Both films have romantic sub-plots; though in The Full Monty the relationship that develops between two of the men — Lomper and Guy — is almost an add-on to the main story. In Brassed Off, the relationship between the colliery’s consultant Gloria, and Andy, one of the miners, is much more embedded. Yet in both, the central relationships are between the men, and the two films offer both an analysis and a celebration of the importance of male friendship.

While I’m not a fan of musicals (really; you have to burst into song to tell me that), the soundtrack to a film is absolutely central to my enjoyment of it. With performance at the heart of both films, the The Full Monty and Brassed Off  have really strong soundtracks.

Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is the song most identified with The Full Monty, though whenever I hear What A Feeling, I am taken back to the scene where the would-be strippers are watching Flashdance, supposedly to improve their dancing. Instead, they end up arguing about Jennifer Beals’ welding technique.

Understandably, most of the music in Brassed Off is performed by brass bands. Indeed, the bulk of the band (excluding the main characters in the story) was made up of members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band; the film being largely based on that town’s experiences of the mine closures.

I have to say that brass band music wasn’t really my cup of tea, but this scene changed my mind:

I’ve watched both Brassed Off and The Full Monty quite recently, and still enjoy them.

Have you seen either? What did you think?

I’m including this clip for The Full Monty because the only official trailer I could find was done for American audiences and I felt it kind of missed the point. And besides, this one gives you a chance to hear the wonderful Donna Summer again.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.








Film Friday: The Trip (2010)


Poster: The Trip, 2011. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, and based on BBC series of the same name.

Confession: I have a really loud laugh.

And yes, I know that can be very annoying in the cinema. I really can’t help it (or the sometimes-accompanying snort), but (thankfully?) I don’t often see films that really, really make me laugh.

The Trip is an exception. Fortunately, the people around me in the cinema thought so to, and I was largely drowned out.

The Trip is a foodie comedy road movie shot through with a sort of wistfulness that perhaps comes from the two lead actors playing versions of themselves. The film is constructed from edited-together footage from a BBC TV series in which the two — Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden — visit a series of restaurants in the north of England which Coogan has (for the purposes of the story) been commissioned to review for a national newspaper.

Despite this premise, and some lovingly shot scenes of restaurant kitchens, food very much takes a backseat in the film (assume you’re travelling in a bus — that sort of back seat).

Instead, the momentum and humour come from the interplay between the leads. Part friendship, part rivalry, their conversations and banter travel along a shifting boundary between their fictional and real selves. Both men are known as comic actors and gifted mimics, and it’s their mimicry that really brings the laughs.

Since The Trip, three more series and three more films have been made, with the pair travelling to different destinations in each. I have seen the second — The Trip, Italy — and found it funny although not significantly different to the original. I wonder if the third and fourth trips — to Spain and Greece — have found new territory to explore?

As actors playing actors in films that rely on naturalistic, possibly unscripted dialogue, most of the conversations are about the media. With that comes a sense that the audience is expected to be “in the know” — to be familiar with the people and films they talk about — indeed to be students of Coogan and Bryden’s own work. Without that knowledge, I doubt The Trip and it’s sequels would be nearly as funny.

So not a Top 100 movie, but one that has the power to make people laugh out loud. Right now, that’s no bad thing.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.


Film Friday: 20 Feet from Stardom


Poster, 20 Feet From Stardom. Image from The Cocoa Diaries

Strip out the backing vocals from rock, pop and R&B music and you lose much of its depth and richness. And yet, how many of us can name the singers (mainly women) who perform on our favourite songs?

20 Feet From Stardom is a 2013 documentary that explores the lives and careers of some of the music industry’s most prolific backing-singers. We may not recognise the names — Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer (who’ve both sung Gimme Shelter with Mick Jagger), Judith HillClaudia Lennear, or Darlene Love — but we recognise their voices, and when the spotlight is upon them, we understand their genius.

I love this movie. It doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of what it means to be in the background — vital to, but often unacknowledged in — moments of musical magic and history-making. At the same time, it is incredibly joyous. These women love to sing and the film gives them voice.

20 Feet From Stardom was a huge box-office success and won the 2014 Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. As a result, some of its leading ladies have been propelled at least a few more of those 20 feet to stardom.

You can see the official trailer here:

And if you’re interested in knowing more about the making of the film, this interview with Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton and the film’s director Morgan Neville, is really interesting.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Darren’s and Sarah’s latest posts.


Film Friday: Strictly Ballroom

MV5BOTU5ZTBlMWEtNGQzNi00MDNiLTk4NjEtNTQ1MTg5MzBhYzQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE1NjY5Mg@@._V1_ Publicity poster, Strictly Ballroom. Image from IMDb

Music, dancing, romance, rivalries and political machinations — what’s not to like?

Strictly Ballroom (1992), is Australian film-maker Baz Lurhmann’s directoral debut. Set in the world of competitive ballroom dancing, it’s a story about love and friendship, about following your dreams, and about doing the right thing when it really matters.

It’s also incredibly funny. And tongue-in-cheek. And uplifting. All of which I need right now.

You can find out more about the film and see a trailer at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) here.

And hopefully you’ll be able to watch the video below of John Paul Young singing his 1977 hit Love is in the Air, which he re-recorded for the Strictly Ballroom soundtrack.

Now get up and dance.

Fun fact:

The hit British TV programme Strictly Come Dancing gets its name from this movie — in case you didn’t know.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Darren’s latest post. Sarah is taking a break this week.



Film Friday : Mr Wrong

mr_wrong Poster, Mr Wrong (1985), directed by Gaylene Preston. Image: NZ Film Commission

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated a new blogging project — Film Friday.

I love cinema, so how could I not join in?

Mr Wrong is the film that I’ve seen more times than any other — by quite a large margin.

The reason is that it’s one of two New Zealand films about which I wrote my Masters’ thesis. The other was Trial Run, and while I’ve clocked up the hours watching that as well, I confess I never enjoyed it as much.


It’s March 1986, and I’ve already wasted a year of my enrollment in a MA (not to mention a year’s worth of bursary) trying to find something (anything) interesting in the research topic I’ve somehow landed myself with.

To help pay the bills, I’ve managed to create a nice little gig writing and producing a training film for my department. I also enrol in a Film Studies paper taught by the pioneer of academic film study in New Zealand — Professor Roger Horrocks.

As it becomes increasingly clear that I won’t ever complete the planned research into The World’s Most Boring Thesis Topic Ever — friends rally to help me cobble together a new research proposal. We go back to the beginning. What am interested in? Duh: film!

Conveniently for me, two New Zealand made films offer up a perfect topic. Or as I wrote in my thesis introduction:

In 1984, the final year of the current New Zealand film boom, two unusual films were completed. MR WRONG, directed by Gaylene Preston … and TRIAL RUN, directed by Melanie Read have the triple distinction of being New Zealand films made by and about women, and of declaring themselves feminist films. Further, both operate within, and on, the thriller genre.

Mr Wrong was adapted from a short story by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It is about Meg, a young woman who buys a MK II Jaguar car only to discover it is haunted. Without resorting to depictions of violence and gore, the film contains several scenes that are truly terrifying. Indeed, over thirty years after I first saw it, I still get goose pimples remembering the scene where Meg thinks she’s escaped from the bad guy only to find …

I guess there’s no need to spell it out.

But what I do want to emphasize is that while Meg and another female character are victims of male aggression, the audience is never invited to revel in their fear. And in the end, the women triumph — which doesn’t happen in the original short story.

When I interviewed her for my thesis, director Gaylene Preston acknowledged the influence of Alfred Hitchcock in the way she shot several scenes to increase their dramatic tension — mentioning Hitchcock’s line that “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

In the process of writing the thesis, I watched Mr Wrong over 20 times. Afterwards, I did wonder if I’d ever be able to sit through it again.

I have. It’s that good.

You can watch the NZ Film Commission’s trailer here.

Or the trailer for the film’s American release (as Dark of the Night), on Gaylene Preston’s website here.

And you can find out more about #filmfriday by visiting Sarah‘s or Darren’s blog.