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The Resurrection of Wes Anderson

Written by: FFT Webmaster | May 15th, 2012

The above is, granted, a little extreme. Wes Anderson has not in fact been away, and therefore news of his resurrection is greatly exaggerated. However, after a very promising and prolific early start to his career, he had a few films that faltered. But the mojo is definitely back with Anderson’s newest film set to open the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday night……no small accomplishment for any filmmaker of any stripe from anywhere in the world. MOONRISE KINGDOM is the two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker’s first foray into period cinema. Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, the film tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way. An all-star cast ensues…….Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff, Captain Sharp. Edward Norton is a Khaki Scout troop leader, Scout Master Ward. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand portray the young girl’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban; and introduces Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the boy and girl. The film opens theatrically in the United States on May 25 via Focus Features: http://www.filminfocus.com/moonrise_kingdom.

Wes Anderson emerged in the late 1990s with a highly regarded low budget indie film, which led to a series of critical and box office hits of projects that were decidedly quirky and also featured “all star” casts of acting veterans and dynamic newcomers. He is a filmmaker who is comfortable in both the indie film and mainstream Hollywood worlds. He is one of a rare breed of filmmakers who can make their Hollywood films be infused with an independent sensibility. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Anderson was interested in filmmaking and performance from a young age, shooting crude Super-8 movies and staging elaborate school plays. As a philosophy student at the University of Texas at Austin, Anderson found a kindred spirit in classmate Owen Wilson, who shared the director’s passion for playwriting and watching classic films of the ’70s. The two became roommates as Anderson honed his skills at a local public access television station and Wilson performed in local stage productions. The duo then set out to shoot a full-length script they wrote, titled BOTTLE ROCKET (1996), recruiting two of Wilson’s brothers, Luke Wilson and Andrew Wilson, to perform. The film was a sensation at that year’s  Sundance Film Festival, and eventually got picked up by studio biggie Columbia Pictures. It became an international cult hit.

His next film was at a bigger budget and even boasted a star (Bill Murray) but the script was quite quirky, with many autobiographical flourishes. RUSHMORE, completed in 1998, became one of the critical darlings of late 90’s film. Premiere Magazine named RUSHMORE as best film of the year, and Bill Murray was named Best Supporting Actor by both the New York and Los Angeles Critics societies. It also introduced, with considerable charm, a young actor named Jason Schwartzman, who headlines as a fastidious student wise beyond his year who has an epic struggle with a monied benefactor whose power is clearly slipping to the titans of a new generation. The next film was THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001), a J.D. Salinger-inspired tale about a super intellectual Manhattan family, with one of the most distinctive casts ever, including Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gywneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover and Owen Wilson. It is one of the great New York films of the past 20 years.  He stumbled with the 2004 seafaring opus THE LIFE ACQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, which again featured muse Bill Murray. Co-written with Noah Baumbach, this was an absurdist adventure film that never really was grasped by the public. It is perhaps one of those films that will be better treated and understood a generation from now.  He turned back to a sprawling visual style with THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007), an existential road movie that just happens to be based in India. Collaborating with RUSHMORE star Schwartzman and friend Roman Coppola, the director also recruited an interesting cast by linking Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody as three fractious brothers on a life-changing journey through the subcontinent. The film received mixed reviews and critics began to wag about whether Anderson’s world view and popularity was now waning.

The director was back four years later, in a big way, in a genre direction that no one expected him to take with a stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, featuring the voice of, among others, George Clooney. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film and was a considerable international hit. It also pointed to the filmmaker’s international appeal. In other part of the world, he is regarded as a kind of art film director. This may be his strongest creative impulse and it should serve him well with MOONRISE KINGDOM, which seems a return to form. Wes Anderson is not a filmmaker who will break box office records, but his is a uniquely American vision that is embraced in the United States and debated in the rest of the world. Welcome back, Wes…….

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