Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Film Round-Up, July 2012: Paul Williams: Still Alive, The Magic of Belle Isle, Your Sister's Sister, Moonrise Kingdom

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, three movies that do not suck. And one directed by Rob Reiner. These reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. 

Paul Williams: Still Alive (Dir: Stephen Kessler). Growing up in the 1970s, Kessler felt a kinship with songwriter Williams ("Evergreen," "The Rainbow Connection"), who appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies. Decades later, Kessler discovered that Williams was alive and sought to reconnect "with my friend from the television." Kessler soon follows Williams everywhere—a show in Las Vegas, a quickie tour through the Philippines—growing from sketchy fan to camera-carrying nuisance to friend. Some may find Kessler's on-camera presence and incessant narration gimmicky, but he cuts through the celebrity gloss and 70s kitsch, capturing the real person. The depth of this good-natured documentary surprises you. Williams suffered from alcohol and drug problems, but his quest for fame may have been his ultimate undoing. "I felt like I belonged in the world," says Williams, who appeared in everything from The Tonight Show (50 times) to Circus of the Stars. That Williams now happily plays small venues and lives in a modest California home defines the film's poignant sweetness. Finally, in his early seventies, he has found peace. "The last couple of years have fucked up your movie," Williams says. "And I love that." Me too. [PG-13] ****

The Magic of Belle Isle (Dir: Rob Reiner). Starring: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Emma Fuhrmann, Fred Willard, Kenan Thompson, Kevin Pollak, Ash Christian. Widowed and paralyzed, irritable and self-pitying, creatively dormant novelist Monte Wildhorn (Freeman) spends his days filling the holes in his life with booze. His concerned nephew (Thompson) finds Monte a summer home in a charming lakeside town, where Monte continues his self-destructive ways until he meets his neighbor (Madsen), an attractive, intelligent single mother with three young girls. Monte bonds with the middle child, a precocious tomboy (Fuhrmann) who wants to know "where stories come from." Pretty soon Monte is on a path toward redemption. The sheer volume of supporting characters and storylines keep Freeman, Madsen, and Fuhrmann's characters—easily the best in the ensemble—from evolving beyond neon-lit signs of redemption or innocence. Maybe if the screenplay, co-written by Reiner, weren't so concerned with showcasing Freeman's godly, integrity-infused pipes (e.g., teaching a dog to play catch, confronting an obnoxious birthday party clown), The Magic of Belle Isle wouldn't feel so shallow. Also available on demand. [PG] **

Your Sister's Sister (Dir: Lynn Shelton). Starring: Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt. A year after his brother's desk, Jack (Duplass) is rudderless to the point of self-destruction. Jack's concerned friend, Iris (Blunt), also his brother's ex, offers the use of her father's secluded cabin so he can "stare at the water and think about your life." When he finally arrives, Iris's lesbian sister, Hannah (DeWitt), is already there, recovering from a break-up with her longtime partner. A late night drinking session later, Jack and Hannah sleep together. That boozy hook-up turns into a life-altering event when Iris arrives unannounced, leading to a series of revelations among the houseguests. Like her terrific previous effort, Humpday, Shelton takes an outlandish premise and uses it to showcase the emotional fragility of adults in transition. There's nothing forced or phony in this tale of people forced to find themselves during a brief period of tumult. Terrific performances by everyone, especially DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) as the simultaneously assured and panicked Hannah and Duplass (starting to rival Mark Ruffalo in the aw-shucks charm department) as the man-child forced to become an adult. Heavily improvised, making the assuredness of the final product all the more remarkable. [R] ***1/2

Moonrise Kingdom (Dir: Wes Anderson). Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel. Gorgeously presented, sweetly told story takes place in a fictitious New England island during the summer of 1965. Perpetual orphan and unpopular Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Gilman) escapes camp to marry pen pal and bookish troublemaker Suzy Bishop (Hayward). The kids' innocent elopement soon takes on epic proportions, raising the concern of her parents (McDormand and Murray), Sam's earnest Scout Master (Norton), and the island's patient police chief (Willis). Works beautifully as an adolescent adventure—Gilman and Hayward stand out among the accomplished, star-studded ensemble—but adults will savor how Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola frame the story as an ode to the bewilderment of our pre- early teenage years: how the adult world reveals itself in bits and pieces, how everything is imbued with consequence now that we're older. Anderson's recent efforts have felt more like an accumulation of lushly colored, quirky details than complete films. In Moonrise Kingdom, those artistic tendencies provide a sweeping storybook quality to a timeless film about the raw, open-ended adventure that is childhood. [PG-13] ****1/2

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