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Cat Stevens, “Here Comes My Baby”
Matthew and Son, 1967

As of this writing (April 22) the released footage from Moonrise Kingdom amounts to no more than a trailer, and three exclusive clips drizzled around the internet. Each of the clips are under a minute long and don’t really demonstrate much beyond the fact that Wes Anderson is absolutely at his most Wes Andersony…and that it’s still a beautiful thing. We’ll touch on those below, but only in passing, as this is a look at the official trailer for the film.

If you are interested in seeing the clips, you can watch them here, here and here. No spoilers, apart from what we already know from the trailer, but, as always, watch at your own risk. And please link me if you know of any other footage I missed.


In summary, yeah, this looks pretty fantastic. Growing up has always been one of Anderson’s favorite themes, though this looks like it will tackle the issue head on for the first time since Rushmore. (It was skirted in The Royal Tenenbaums by using childhood as a mechanism for gauging how far the characters have fallen, and subverted by The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited by presenting us only with a view of their adult lives, leaving us to piece together what got them there.)

It looks lovely, brilliantly dreary and evocatively sad, with a late summertime feel, just before all that wonderful freedom falls away and it’s time to get back to school. There’s also no strong clue as to the film’s reappropriated pop songs (at least not to me…can anyone identify the French song in the trailer?), so that should make for a nice surprise, but it does sound like the soundtrack is pulling toward a sort of classical Gothic dirge. With this, I am both fine and in love.

Here’s what else we see in the trailer:

No. I said, what kind of bird are you?

An absolutely beautiful moment opens the trailer, with Jared Gilman declaring his affection for Kara Hayward the only way Wes Anderson’s characters know how: by saying something different entirely. It’s a wonderful way to open the trailer — and it’s safe to say that it comes pretty close to the beginning of the film as well — and it suggests that Anderson might have struck gold again with a young actor in Gilman. His last major discovery of a young actor was Jason Schwartzman, and that sure as hell worked out pretty well. In fact, Anderson has an eye for young actors, or is at least much more careful in vetting them than his contemporaries, because I’m not sure I’ve ever been annoyed by any of the little scamps darting around in the sidelines of his films, whereas usually they detract by default and you need to work to overlook them. (The little girl who plays Grace in Bottle Rocket is admittedly distractingly unskilled at being an actress, but since then he’s had a pretty strong streak in casting the young.) It will be interesting to see how this one pans out. We don’t get to see much of Hayward in the trailer, so it’s more difficult to gauge her performance, but that’s okay…Gilman’s taken away my concern for both of them.


Turn right, and follow to the end.

The love birds (get it…?) plot their escape over several quick flashes of communication and preparation, which I suspect is lifted more or less wholesale from the film and isn’t trimmed much here. Their one-word exchanges are typical of Anderson characters, and the fact that they took time to write such simple letters — and to communicate in a less personal way, thereby remaining guarded — hearken back to both Ned’s pre-addressing of 50 envelopes for Jane to correspond with him in The Life Aquatic, and Richie’s blunt communications by telegram in The Royal Tenenbaums, in which he says things he’s only comfortable saying because he knows he’s several layers removed from the rest of the world. The sharp cuts are all beautifully framed and demonstrate that Anderson hasn’t lost his flair — or compulsion — to make even his briefest visual statements hit both deep and hard. Gilman’s instructions to Hayward, along with what we actually see him doing, tap directly into the things he’s learned in the Khaki Scouts, and it’s going to be fun to piece together their lessons and routines from the way we’ll see them exploited…much as we were able to do with Team Zissou.


Who’s missing?

Camp Ivanhoe. Yeah, one of the things that worries me — in fact, the only thing that worries me, and it’s a pretty small worry — is the title of this film. Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t feel particularly evocative of anything…or, rather, it feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be evocative. Bottle Rocket was a metaphorical title referring to Dignan’s bright — but always brief — burning for change, Rushmore was named after the academy Max attended (and also served as a metaphor for personal ambition), The Royal Tenenbaums was a gloriously two-sided title, referring both to the family as a whole and their lost regal status, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou evokes both images of sea life and life upon the sea, not to mention life itself, The Darjeeling Limited is named after a fucking train so, okay, that one sucks too, and Fantastic Mr. Fox was the title Roald Dahl chose and was the least of that film’s worries anyway. But Moonrise Kingdom just feels to me like it deserves to be attached to a forgettable Mickey Mouse video game than a Wes Anderson film. I reserve the right to change my mind immediately upon seeing the film, of course, but calling the Boy Scout analogue “Khaki Scouts” feels like something they’d do in a Saturday Night Live skit because they didn’t have any time to think of something better. A bit of a disappointment there, albeit an early and easily corrected one. Camp Ivanhoe, on the other hand, is legitimately hilarious.


Jiminy Cricket! He flew the coop!

Another bird reference here, which, I hope, will be carried through as a complete theme. We also see Edward Norton for the first time as the scoutmaster, and it’s pretty immediately apparent that he’s playing a live action Ned Flanders. If anyone could do that, it’s Edward Norton, so I’m more than happy enough if that turns out to be the case. His expletive substitutes may well turn out to be annoying, but Anderson’s quite good at measuring out his quirk just enough that it’s cohesive, but never so much that it’s overbearing, or unconsciously annoying. Norton has the potential to be a great addition to Anderson’s growing assembly of actors, so I’m interested to see how this pans out.


Does it concern you that your daughter has just run away from home?

Frances McDormand’s bullhorn is a bit disconcerting. What I said above about Norton’s profanity-free obscenities holds true here, as I do think Anderson is fully capable of regulating these personal crutches and affectations so that they have the correct impact, but the bullhorn feels a bit obvious, and he’ll have a much tougher time keeping that from getting annoying. It could work in the same way that Chas Tenenbaum’s matching track suits work as a method of keeping his children immediately identifiable in a crowd — and therefore safer and easier to reach should anything happen — but if the bullhorn charts the same territory then I’ll be even more doubtful about its necessity. Of course, McDormand is fantastic and will be another great addition to Anderson’s cast. Marrying her character to Bill Murray’s also suggests that she’ll fit more easily into the ensemble than it might seem.


Until help arrives I’m deputizing the little guy, the skinny one, the boy with the patch on his eye, to come with me in the station wagon.

If any name that popped up in the cast list thrilled me outright, it was Bruce Willis. Willis is an extremely capable actor who, unfortunately, does not always get roles that allow him to show off his considerable range. Working as a comic character in a Wes Anderson film is no doubt going to let a lot of his relatively dormant talents run free, and I absolutely love the low-key, ineffectiveness of his uniform. The badge is hardly visible against his unassuming white shirt, and the black tie suggests — presumably correctly — that the police are a mere formality in this town where nothing ever much happens. I like this.


If we find him, I’m not going to be the one who forgot to bring a weapon.

The idea that the manhunt (or boyhunt) might get dangerously out of control is floated in this trailer — and in one of the clips released — but I don’t think it’s going to be a genuine danger in the film, and is more likely to be played for laughs. At least, I hope that’s the case, as preteens actually beating each other senseless with blunt objects would be about the last thing that I’d expect from this movie. Still, it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold, and it’s liable to lend a sense of increasing urgency to the events of the film, in much the same way that the otherwise ineffectual pirate attack caused Steve Zissou to take a stand with his crew — or perhaps that should be the other way around — and ultimately forced him to consider the wisdom of his quest in a way he hadn’t before. Not that the reflection helped anything. For these characters, it never does. And that’s why we love them.


Our only look at Jason Schwartzman in this trailer, but my goodness is it a great one. There’s so much I’d like to say about this single frame, but I won’t do it. I’d cheapen it. Just look at it yourself. Just take a moment — a full minute — to stare at it, to study every detail, and to just immerse yourself in how absolutely fantastic this image is. Let your eyes see everything. Let yourself appreciate it. Because this is a fucking artist at work. Whatever misgivings I might have about what I’m about to see, this is the kind of still frame that makes all of my apprehensions disappear.


I’m told that he’s just been struck by lightning.

Unlike Frances McDormand, I’d kind of preferred Tilda Swinton to have stayed within the Coen brothers talent pool. She’s not bad at all, but she’s the type of actor that I find very distracting. I’d put Jack Nicholson in the same category. They’re great, but it’s difficult to separate them from the characters they’re meant to be playing. Swinton just seems to pulse icy hatred through the air at all times, and while I know that that’s usually what she’s trying to do, I think it’s a little too easy to see her trying to do it. She doesn’t disappear into roles the way others can, including Willis, Norton and McDormand, so I’m a little less interested in seeing more of her character because I can already guess what it will be. In one of the exclusive clips dropped online, it becomes apparent that she’s playing a human version of Miss Finch from Follow That Bird. Unlike Norton’s personification of Ned Flanders, this doesn’t sound like a notable deviation from anything else she’s done, and she’s the one aspect of the casting that, I’m afraid, leaves me cold.


I’ll be out back. I’m gonna find a tree to chop down.

…but whatever concerns I might have outlined above, the real moral of the story is that we end the trailer with a reminder that Wes Anderson knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing. Give me a drunk Bill Murray with an axe, and you’ll have me on your side forever.

Bring on May 25.

One month from today sees the release of Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s seventh film and one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. To celebrate, I will be giving this blog over to discussions of Anderson and his work, and I can’t think of a living director more deserving of that attention.

The rolling tribute will last for one month, up to the release of Moonrise Kingdom, so if you have no interest in that or any of his other films, I’ll see you in June! Nah, I’ll probably have a bunch of non-Anderson posts here as well, but this will give me a good outlet for what is some pretty major excitement right now.

What you can expect to see:

– Commentary on the Moonrise Kingdom Trailer, along with some analysis and conclusions drawn from what we know so far
– A Noiseless Chatter Spotlight on one of Wes Anderson’s films. Feel free to suggest which one.
– That’s How We’ve Always Done It: A discussion of the consistency of Wes Anderson’s approach, themes and characterizations, and whether it’s an indication of his strong and developed voice, or a reluctance to chart new ground.
– Listomania: The 10 Most Affecting Wes Anderson Moments, reworked from my original article at Noise to Signal
– Anatomy of a Scene: Deconstructing one of Anderson’s many unforgettable moments, and taking a look at how and why it works.
– A Look Back at Wes Anderson’s previous films, as a brief primer for newcomers.
– Friday Musical Interludes consisting of licensed music from the films of Wes Anderson
– My Review of Moonrise Kingdom, once it’s out of course. Spoiler: It’s better than Fantastic Mr. Fox. Because come on.

…and maybe some more stuff too, so stick around. I look forward to counting down the days with all of you, and reading your comments as we discuss one of the most interesting artists of any kind working today.

Oh, and the image above and to the right is an egg I dyed with my girlfriend this past Easter. It’s Steve Zissou, and I ate him on a sandwich.


Vampire Weekend, “Ladies of Cambridge”
B-side, 2007


Maybe I will do a list of this kind every month. Or maybe I won’t. I probably won’t. I hope you didn’t like that introductory paragraph very much, because I’m going to write another one:

Comedy is difficult. Making people laugh is the easy part…making people laugh for the right reasons, at the right times, satisfyingly and consistently, is practically a science. For that reason, we come to expect that not every comedian will make it big, and that not every joke they tell will make us laugh. We know that an impressive hit rate is difficult to maintain, and we adjust our expectations accordingly, striking a balance between how much we’d like to be entertained, and how much we can reasonably expect of a fellow flawed human being.

But, sometimes, a particular comedian is doomed from the start. He is not only incapable of making us laugh, but he’s without control over his material, his audience, or even his demeanor. It’s tragic when this happens, and painfully awkward. The floundering comedian is an effective and offputting archetype, and that’s why writers have dipped into this well repeatedly, crafting characters fated to bomb every time, doomed to botch every punchline, making us laugh not warmly, but defensively, and with discomfort.

In the interesting cases of these comedians, laughing at their material means you missed the joke. Here are 10 examples of that irony personified.

1) Fozzie Bear (The Muppet Show)

There’s perhaps no better cultural touchpoint for the ill-equipped comedian than Fozzie Bear, and his signature “wocka wocka” has wormed its way into our vernacular as well, becoming rightfully associated with sub-par material and limp gags. Fozzie’s routine was dated before he was born, relying on simple puns and vaudeville showmanship to generate rapturous laughter and applause that never comes. He’s also, however, eminently sympathetic, which is not only why we like him, but why Kermit keeps him around, and gives him another chance every week to die on stage. With two old curmudgeons heckling him from the balcony above, we are free from the desire to criticize his act, and can instead turn our attention to the uplifting fact that no matter how poorly he’s received, Fozzie’s always devoted enough to his craft to throw away what doesn’t work — in his case, everything — and write a whole new act from scratch. We’d love to see Dane Cook follow his lead.

2) Jimmy Valmer (South Park)

Jimmy Valmer is a special case, in several senses of the word. For one, he’s an 8-year-old boy, which means — unlike Fozzie and everyone else on this list — he isn’t disappointed that he hasn’t made it further in his comedy career. After all, that’s still to come! But he also suffers from several obvious physical handicaps. No matter; Jimmy wants only to make the world laugh, an ambition that’s downright touching by South Park standards, and one made all the more unfortunate by his chronic stutter, which causes him to step on his own punchlines and prevents him from honing his delivery…or even intelligibility. His jokes are about what you would expect from an 8-year-old boy — meaning his material is about as mature as could reasonably be expected and therefore, again, elevates him above the other entries on this list — but they actually seem to work. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and the rest of the boys accept him relatively happily for who he is, functioning just fine within their social circle, and he’s not defined in their eyes by his handicaps. No, instead Jimmy is treated exactly as poorly as they treat anyone else. That’s the healing power of humor.

3) Randy (Funny People)

Aziz Ansari is a genuinely gifted comic, and as Parks and Recreation demonstrates weekly, he’s also a talented actor. Both of those things allowed him to bring to life Randy, a pitch-perfect exaggeration — though only just — of a comedian so manic and animated that it completely masks the dire quality of the material he’s delivering. The greatest stand-up comics raised their volume for emphasis. Those from Randy’s school of performing, on the other hand, do it to drown out audience thought, keeping them cheaply engaged and laughing hollowly so that they won’t realize there isn’t any substance. Funny People is just one of many movies that Ansari steals wholesale from their ostensible stars, and the character of Randy has gone on to a have a full life outside the film: Ansari deploys him during his actual stand-up routines now, perhaps as a point of comparison to his normal material, but more likely as a cathartic blow against more popular, more profitable contemporaries of his, who cash larger paychecks but don’t have anything worth saying. Randy may be a popular draw within the world of the film, but all he really does is pull audiences away from more deserving performers.

4) Kenny Bania (Seinfeld)

In contrast to Randy, Kenny Bania is a hack we actually tend to like. Like Fozzie Bear before him, we feel protective of Kenny Bania, as though we don’t trust that he’ll survive the cruel world of stand-up comedy. Even the typically staid Jerry breaks down his personal barriers and takes Bania under his wing — however temporarily. Bania is overjoyed by the simplest, laziest pieces of observational humor, often interrupting his mentor with a sincere and irony-free exclamation of “That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!” His perpetual enthusiasm and sunniness is a rare thing for the Seinfeld gang, and it’s no wonder that he made several appearances during the show’s run, becoming more successful as a comic, but never getting any better or any wiser. Bania was given the ultimate compliment long after Seinfeld ended, by being one of very few recurring characters resurrected for that show’s “reunion” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Unlike the profoundly irritating Randy, whose success seems to grow as your faith in humanity diminishes, Bania is more of an infectiously adorable nuisance, and it’s nice to know that he’s still out there somewhere, as ecstatic as ever over jokes that aren’t as clever as he thinks they are.

5) Krusty the Clown (The Simpsons)

Krusty the Clown has provided us with much cause for laughter over the years…just not where he wanted us to find it. His Krusty the Clown Show sketches are the stuff of huge mustaches and pie fights, something that might be written by somebody who grew up watching classic comedians, but could never figure out why they were supposed to be funny. In fact, his comedy routines are so poor that they drove at least one of his previous sidekicks to criminal insanity. The humor behind Krusty comes from the incongruity of his situation: he’s a children’s entertainer who openly dislikes children, even when the cameras are rolling. His drug and booze fueled lifestyle allow him to coast lazily through whatever appearances he’s contractually obligated to make, but beyond that he’s a comedian who doesn’t particularly care whether or not you find him funny…he gets paid either way. In fact, in one episode (“The Last Temptation of Krust”) Krusty does become inspired to develop as a stand-up comedian, and achieves a new peak of notability with his more mature, insightful material. And then, of course, somebody offers him money, and he realizes that that’s his real passion. Krusty isn’t a hack because he doesn’t have the talent; he’s a hack because he’d rather make easy money than work hard. It’s an ethos so powerful and seductive that it eventually infected the writing of The Simpsons itself.

6) Dee Reynolds (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

You’d be hard pressed to describe any of the main characters in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as sympathetic, but you’d probably have the easiest time with Dee, if only because she seems to be aware that she’s missing out on something greater in the world. For all their grumbling and groaning, Mac, Dennis, Charlie and Frank are all actually pretty content where they are, and with who they are. They don’t have much of a desire to achieve even a measure of self-awareness, let alone anything bigger for themselves. Dee, on the other hand, does have aspirations: she wants to be an actress. With so little experience and talent behind her, though, she isn’t even sure where to begin, which is why she regularly subjects herself to delivering dire stand-up comedy at The Laff House. She explains this to Charlie — the only one in whom she’s confided about her performances — by saying she’s paying her dues. After all, if she wants to be an actress, she has to learn how to hold an audience. Fair enough, but when her set degenerates immediately into a series of painful and repulsive dry heaves, it’s clear that this is a gesture of self-mutilation, rather than any experience she’s likely to benefit from. Charlie, meanwhile, eats cat food. He’s the happier one.

7) Geoff Tipps (The League of Gentlemen)

The brilliant third series of The League of Gentlemen found many of its characters being thrust well outside of their comfort zones, an evolutionary direction for the show that resulted in much of its best — if not necessarily funniest — material. For Geoff Tips, this meant leaving the small town of Royston Vasey to pursue a stand-up comedy career in London. This is not a career change that’s destined to go well, particularly as we’ve already seen him botch jokes so badly that he’s threatened to shoot people for not laughing, and play practical jokes on his friends that involve him staging a gory suicide in a restaurant bathroom. Comedy is not Geoff’s forte, but it is his passion, and so, when he loses his job in “Turn Again, Geoff Tipps”, the comedy club is the first place he turns. Of course he bombs in more ways than one, not only allowing his act to dissolve into a shouting match with dissatisfied audience members, but also by serving as the unwitting chauffeur for a terrorist car bomb on behalf of the IRA. Still, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

8) GOB and Franklin Bluth (Arrested Development)

Comedy is not GOB Bluth’s strong point. Nor is puppeteering. Nor music. Nor ventriloquism nor respecting the delicacy of race relations. It’s pretty clear then that his act with Franklin is going to go about as well as anything else he’s done. That won’t stop GOB, however, because GOB is one of those people who believes that everything he does is being done well, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s he who is doing it. He sees himself as preternaturally gifted in all areas he attempts to explore, and often this premature self-satisfaction is so seductive that others get sucked in as well. In the case of Franklin Delano Bluth — the puppet who reminds us that it’s not easy being brown — however there’s not much to get on board with. His racially-charged banter with the dead-eyed Franklin is stymied by the fact GOB can’t keep his lips from moving, ultimately resulting in his desperately hiding a tape recorder inside the puppet as a substitute for using his own voice. Unfortunately, GOB’s lips still move, even though he’s not saying anything, and the act is just as doomed as it ever was. As a character, GOB rarely says or does anything genuinely clever; rather, he works so well as a comic figure because of just how artfully he gets everything wrong. And speaking of puppets…

9) Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey (Knowing Me, Knowing You… With Alan Partridge)

Of all the characters on this list, Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey are the only ones who have just a single appearance to their credit. Even Randy continued to exist outside of the film that gave him life. Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey, however, so thoroughly squandered their chance at fame that they were never heard from again, in any form, ever. Just one of many, many, many things to go wrong for Alan Partridge on his ABBA-inspired chat show, Joe Beazley — suffering obvious and debilitating stage fright — bungles his performance so badly than Alan is forced to shut it down almost immediately…much to Joe’s chagrin. Joe starts out by bungling a joke that he improvised just minutes before in the green room, and it only gets worse from there. This comedy misfire wasn’t quite as damaging to Alan’s television career as the fact that he later shot another guest through the heart with a dueling pistol on live television, but the bitter taste of Joe Beazley’s routine with Cheeky Monkey lingers on to this day; he was one of the performers Alan saw fit to call out and specifically berate in his recent memoir, I, Partridge. Alan’s not one to let go of disappointment easily, and this laugh-free puppet fiasco affected him so profoundly that he used it as justification for never again giving up-and-coming performers a break. Ooh, you cheeky monkey.

10) Steve Martin

Why are we ending on an actual comedian? Well, because Steve Martin, in terms of his stand-up anyway, was always a very deliberate creation. What you saw on stage wasn’t Steve Martin the man, but Steve Martin the character. His arrow through the head, his balloon animals, his belabored “Well ex-cuu-uu-uuse me!” were all meant as clever pieces of anti-comedy. When he took to the stage, he did so as a walking caricature of the worst that stand-up comedy had to offer. Needless to say, audiences loved it, and Martin was given higher profile gigs, such as a record-breaking number of appearances on Saturday Night Live, and also more classic films than we can remember. The public initially decided they loved Steve Martin because he shined a spotlight on things that weren’t funny, but he did so in such an endearingly committed way that they just had to laugh. And then, once he had everybody’s attention, he showed the world that he knew comedy so well that he’s since stood as an important cultural fixture, spanning decades while lesser comedians — including many who unintentionally resembled the act that made him famous — came and went. And the moral of Steve Martin’s story is the most important lesson to keep in mind here: anyone can write a bad joke, but it takes a sincerely gifted people to craft these characters that are so perfectly bad in all the best ways.

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