The Limits of Control – Jim Jarmush (2009)


Jim Jarmusch is not a prolific filmmaker by any means, but when he does make a film it makes noise – divisive noise – thanks to his oddball-arthouse style and the challenging questions he poses to the audience. His fans are used to his style by now, over 20 years into his career, but it’s a harder one to grasp for the influx of new fans Broken Flowers, his last film, and its star, Bill Murray, might have brought in.

For the uninitiated, Jarmusch films unspool in languid labyrinths of subtleties and reversals, where what you are being presented is only a piece of the puzzle, and the puzzle you see may not even be the real picture. His plots are an existential cryptex.

In The Limits of Control, however, Jarmusch has forgotten to give us the codeword. African actor and Jarmusch regular Isaach De Bankolé plays a nameless man on an unknown mission. He has arrived in Spain, where has a clandestine meeting in the airport via translator. The two seedy, Bond-villain-by-way-of-Abbott-&-Costello types he meets pass him a matchbox with a code inside and send him on his way to the next in a long line of such meetings.

The incongruity of “art film” and “big budget” (judging by the rich luxury on the screen) doesn’t gel together. Jarmusch stocks his film with lavish sets, beautiful old apartments, ritzy locations (and even a helicopter) following the nameless man all over Spain, but there is very little substance to back it up.

Instead, we are treated to vignettes of movie stars – Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, Bill Murray – musing about the mysteries of life, while Paz de la Huerta roams through the film in the nude. It’s a pretty film, and for more reasons than de la Huerta. Shot by the ultra-talented Christopher Doyle, the varied old-world and modern beauty of Spain is taken advantage of, from the cosmopolitan Madrid to the breathtaking seaside villages.

There are jokes within the awkwardness of the exchanges, but they are too few and far between, if you are even awake to hear them. Every time something seems to be happening, Jarmusch tips us gently back into sleep mode. It’s enough to make you long for a sip of one of the countless espressos the nameless man enjoys.

Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson (2012)

The revision I sent in wasn’t printed, so read this version instead: 

The last time Wes Anderson came around the block to show us a live action feature, 2009’s The Darjeeling Limited, he faced a baptism of fire like he’s never faced before. Critics and fans alike, as well as the regular crop of haters, seemed to be waiting to shout “hipster crap!” to the first person who would listen. Too quirky! It’s Tenenbaums in a different continent! And the damn soundtrack!

To his credit though, he came through that trial completely unphased, first delivering the stop-motion wonder The Fantastic Mr. Fox and now the throwback first love tale, Moonrise Kingdom. Once again,Anderson has dipped deeply into his ink well of familiar tropes and flourished each thought with his singular style.

His seventh film, Moonrise presents a simple story: a boy and a girl, Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), both young, both outcasts who are occasionally prone to violent outbursts, fall in love. The pair, feeling their home lives caving in on them, decide to run away to make that love work within the little bit of space they can carve out together before parents (Frances McDormand and an absolutely show-stealing performance by Bill Murray), troopmasters (Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Law (Bruce Willis) can catch up with them to tell them they’re too damn young.

It’s a nice story to think about, and many people will find it to be a story they’ve been thinking about in some shape or form since they were twelve too. But there’s been some suggestion in the ether that the film’s premise doesn’t necessarily work because kids don’t fall in love like that, not that deeply, not that young. And all kids don’t, but some do. The plot description describes my fifth grade classmates Andy and Zoë as much as it describes Sam and Suzy. Andy and Zoë, occasionally violent outcasts themselves, were able to convince enough people of their love that when they got “married” during a spring recess after lunch period, nearly every kid from fourth and fifth grade followed them in a mass wedding procession around the schoolyard as the teachers watched on in awe. Much like Khaki Scout Troop 55 — who view Sam as their mortal enemy — eventually comes around to Sam and Suzy’s side, becoming their eventual protectors, we came around to Andy and Zoë’s side too in the face of such a mad display of love.

That kind of mad display both stories have has to be respected, maybe even envied. As torturous as those years are, these are the kinds of moments you can look back on without the echoes of a stomach ache and Moonrise hits on this hard and with passion in every stride. Anderson’s woodsy thought process won’t necessarily evoke a true childhood moment for all, but elicits a thorough batch of the rainy summer daydreams where most grand childhood adventures and romances are so often had: in heads and hearts, if not in flesh. Maybe that’s a more true evocation of childhood anyway, because the best part of childhood is the imagination. It’s the things we wish we could do, before we know why we can’t do them. Fly like Superman, draw like John Romita Jr, swing like Ken Griffey Jr, or just to be able to speak to your crush without dropping dead right on the spot. They’re all equally impossible at that age, except in our heads, and in our movies.