In the Sundance heyday of the late ’90s, the ubiquity of Steve Buscemi was something that hip people — the sorts who knew his name and how to spell it, as opposed to the casual moviegoers who just felt a twitch of happy recognition at the appearance of that magnificently puffy gaze with its implication of a hangover (not merely enduring, but existential) — joked about over post-cinematheque maki rolls:
“Is it even possible to get an ‘art’ film green-lit without Steve Buscemi? It’s like there’s a secret law in the Hollywood Rule Book, the ‘Buscemi Proviso,’ which decrees that every script has to include a role for him. Dude is everywhere.”
“A theory, chum: Steve Buscemi is the physical embodiment of the green light. He's the human cigar that gets fired when the foreign financing drops into place.”
What was, and is, so annoying about such smug talk is that it trivializes the greatness of the most memorable, unconventionally charismatic, and intelligent character actor at work in film and television today. He's been funny (Reservoir Dogs) and he's been acerbic (Ghost World). In The Sopranos, as the trying-to-be-good Tony Blundetto, his portrayal of recidivism was as brilliant as it was upsetting. With his lead role as Atlantic City gangster Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire), Buscemi has emerged as an antihero for the ages, noble and wicked and cool, and proved that he truly can play anything, even a star. And who else has appeared in so many Adam Sandler films (Billy Madison, The Wedding Singer, et al.) and escaped unscathed? Steve Buscemi is the little black dress of cinema, appropriate for any occasion.
I’ll admit to something embarrassing as a writer: I’d never heard of the word “twee” until I started seeing it in reviews of Wes Anderson’s latest films sometime post–The Royal Tenenbaums. Since then, I’ve noticed it’s the bon mot of choice for quips indicating Anderson makes meticulously stylish movies. Which is kind of like snarking that Scorsese loves tracking shots, or Tarantino writes long monologues. Call me an apologist, but I find his intricately drawn where’s-Waldo worlds of bittersweet nostalgia entrancing. At the very least, I think we owe him for giving us Gene Hackman’s last great film. (True, I haven’t seen Welcome to Mooseport, but you don’t need to stick a fork in a power socket to know what’ll happen.)
How limited is the release of Wes Anderson's new filmMoonrise Kingdom? Well, as this reporter discovered on Friday, it didn't even open in Canada. But even without the powerhouse Canadian audience driving ticket sales, Kingdom opened huge: According to Deadline, it took in an average of $130,752 in four U.S. locations over the long weekend, thus setting a new specialty box office record. (Judging by the crowd I saw it with yesterday on Manhattan's Upper West Side, ticket buyers largely consisted of loud sexagenarians who find solemn pre-adolescents irresistibly charming.)
Regardless of their quality, Wes Anderson’s movies are precious little contraptions. They’re like antique Matryoshka dolls encased in an eighth grader’s volcano diorama and situated in a dollhouse made of Legos and Lincoln Logs. There are small pieces everywhere, assembled just so, from tweedy costuming to crate-dug soundtrack choices to peculiarly named characters (Raleigh St. Clair; Ned Plimpton; Dignan; Oseary Drakoulias; Badger; Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum — we could go on). In making so many uniquely complex choices during his career, Anderson’s become his own brand of cliché: That’s so Wes Anderson is one of the meanest things anyone can say in Brooklyn. His seventh film, Moonrise Kingdom, which opens today in limited release, is as delicate and fussed-over a thing as he’s ever made. It’s also gorgeous, hilarious, and probably the purest distillation of his style as he’ll ever achieve. It’s a parody of itself in the best way possible.
One perk of writing about Whit Stillman: You get to use words you haven’t seen since your Saturday-morning SAT prep course. Like "raffinated," i.e., the distilled quality of his characters’ dialogue as they bandy off-the-cuff insights and fragile emotions like prep school Ping-Pong champs. Or "cad": the character in a Stillman film (traditionally played by Chris Eigeman) who condemns the morality of Lady and the Tramp, then dumps a girl by claiming to come out of the closet. The other is meeting the man who paved the way for Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and all the other disciples of the cinema of precociousness.