Suffering from a summer diet of banquet-sized blockbusters? You’re not alone. Here we are, just past the middle of the too-many-big-movies season, most of them (Men in Black, Dark Shadows, The Dictator, Battleship) uninspired and underwhelming, money-grubbers all. True, The Avengers and Madagascar 3 are terrific, the best of the lot (so far). And we can hold out hope for maybe one or two of the Big Deals in the pipeline.
But what about the “little” movies? Those with budgets of $15 million or less, the ones that often don’t get booked for long because exhibitors are required to hold onto a film like The Dark Knight Rises for three or more weeks? Is there anything now playing or on the cusp of opening on the ‘aina that won’t leave us with that bloated feeling in the morning?
❦Bernie. A cunning little indie (smart and original) starring Jack Black (back in good form), Shirley MacLaine (as good as ever) and Matthew McConaughey in a true-life story of murder and social grace in a small Texas town. Black plays assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede, an officious type who falls in with a mean-spirited widow and, later, afoul of lawman McConaughey. Exhausted by the widow’s demands, Tiede finally kills her, shooting her four times in the back. But why? We’ll never tell except that the townspeople are glad she’s been whacked. Local prosecutor McConaughey goes after Bernie with all sails unfurled. The movie itself is a real hybrid: part dramatization, part documentary, part interview with actual citizens of Carthage, Texas where the events happened in l996.
Writer-director Richard Linklater, always inventive, has done himself proud here. But better catch this one as soon as you can: it’s on the way out, to make room for product like the Spiderman re-boot.
❦Moonrise Kingdom: Opening within days is Wes Anderson’s sometimes fey fable, a comedy-drama about runaway kids, corrupt or addlepated grownups, and Anderson’s usual mix of realism and fabulist elements. The two kids (not professional actors) are l2 years old, on the cusp of love and fleeing from the mixed-up world of Big People.
Taking place on a fictive island off the coast of New England, the narrated story shows the evolving relationship between Suzy (whose parents are Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Sam (a foster child), who’s a scout in Camp Ivanhoe under scoutmaster Edward Norton. Bruce Willis is around, too, as a two-timer having an affair with McDormand. Anderson’s perennial themes (the search for a stable-ist family) and the intersection of fable and realism are much in evidence. The conflict is recognizable–the place/time in which enchantment (the kids’ world) meets disenchantment (the adult world)–the atmosphere is classic Anderson–and this is one of his best.
These movies aren’t big ones, but they are, to be sure, quality. To be original and memorable in these long summer days is something to be grateful for.