Warming up to hottest summer films

It has been a busy summer at the movies. Batman faced Bane, there was never only one Bourne, and somebody thought it was a good idea to remake Total Recall without Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trademark bravado. While Hollywood was busy raking in boatloads of cash, the last few months have delivered a few exciting titles that will likely show up during Oscar season. Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie, and ParaNorman are three summer films that are worth seeing and still playing at theaters in Pittsburgh.

Moonrise Kingdom

The latest project from cinema’s arch-hipster Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic), Moonrise Kingdom sees his unmistakable stylistic panache reach a new level. Moonrise attempts to understand the possibility of love between two adolescents, Sam and Suzy, who live on the fictional island of New Penzance.

The two run away from their families to establish a place for themselves — a place for love — disconnected from the mundane responsibilities of imminent adulthood. The film revels in the twilight of awkward, deadpan delivery, reaching for gravity and naiveté simultaneously. For the first time, Anderson reveals a preoccupation with spirituality, most evident in a collection of references, both visual and textual, to Noah and the Biblical flood. The soundtrack features music by Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, coexisting harmoniously on Anderson’s island. Moonrise Kingdom is a hip fable that may be the best film of the first half of the year.


In another film worth seeing, director Richard Linklater (School of Rock and Dazed and Confused) teamed up with Jack Black for a second time in Bernie. Black portrays a hyper-genial, flamboyant funeral director who befriends and murders a bitter widow. Linklater’s relaxed charm is noticeable throughout the film, lending lightness to some otherwise heavy subject matter.

His most impressive feat, however, is his use of mock interviews to twist the East Texas community into a Greek chorus. With so much surface nonchalance, it’s startling to see how much intimate psychology Linklater is able to draw from these townspeople. In addition, Black compensates for the numerous, near-unforgivable tragedies of his career (Nacho Libre and Gulliver’s Travels) with this deeply expressive investigation of emotional artifice.


As Pixar dives into a series of sequels that suggest the end of a spellbinding dynasty, other animators are being afforded the opportunity to step up during this new era of digital animation. We were given the supreme Rango last year and this summer, from the creators of Coraline, we were presented with the stop-motion virtuosity of ParaNorman. The movie deals with a cast-out kid who is able to communicate with the dead. It’s a familiar story, but it delivers an extraordinary result. ParaNorman harbors astonishing force in both narrative substance and world building. Everything from the digital effects to the painstaking stop-motion precision is strong.

These three titles barely scratch the surface. If you’re trying to catch some other great summer films while you still have free time, be on the lookout for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Red Hook Summer, Killer Joe, and Magic Mike — all outstanding efforts.